Hogan vetoes redistricting bill, calling Maryland Democrats' measure 'phony'

Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday vetoed a bill passed by the General Assembly that he said would block true redistricting reform in Maryland.

The veto shoots down a plan backed by leading Democrats that would have enacted nonpartisan redistricting in the state if five nearby states also agreed to do so. Hogan viewed the legislation as a political move that actually would have prevented reform of the way congressional and legislative districts are drawn.

"We decided we're not going to wait for other states to act," the Republican governor said. He said the legislature was ignoring the "overwhelming majority of the people of Maryland" who support nonpartisan redistricting.

"Instead of choosing fairness and real nonpartisan reform, they pushed through a phony bill masquerading as redistricting reform," Hogan said. "It was nothing more than a political ploy designed with one purpose in mind: To ensure that real redistricting reform would never actually happen in Maryland."

Maryland's congressional districts have been widely criticized as favoring Democrats, who outnumber Republicans in the state 2 to 1 yet hold seven of eight seats in the House of Representatives and both seats in the U.S. Senate.

Hogan and good government advocates argue a nonpartisan commission should be created to draw districts that more fairly represent the political leanings of a geographic area. Maryland Democrats argue that districts in other states are gerrymandered to favor Republicans, and Democrats should relent in using such tactics only if the GOP does as well.

In a joint statement, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch — the legislature's Democratic leaders — said they were disappointed Hogan vetoed a bill "that could help fix a broken Congress."

"Today's veto reveals that, instead of supporting a true, nonpartisan solution that could restore accountability and cooperation to Washington, Governor Hogan prefers his plan to simply elect more Republicans to Congress," the statement said.

In March, Democrats in the General Assembly killed Hogan's plan to take away lawmakers' power to draw congressional and legislative districts. Hogan had proposed giving the power to draw such lines to a nonpartisan redistricting commission.

Instead, leading Democrats passed legislation that would have allowed an independent panel to draw new district lines if five other states also signed onto a regional compact.

Miller and Busch proposed what they called the Mid-Atlantic Regional Compact. If New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina all passed the same deal, the states would each draw congressional districts using an independent commission.

Their proposal passed the House of Delegates, 87-51, and the state Senate, 30-16, largely along party lines.

State Sen. Jim Brochin, a Democrat who represents a conservative part of Baltimore County, crossed party lines to vote against the Democrats' bill. Brochin, who appeared alongside Hogan at the news conference where he announced the veto, said he knows Maryland's districts are gerrymandered simply by looking at his own.

"It's a great district. I love it. But is it fair?" he said. "No, it's not fair at all."

A federal court is weighing whether Maryland's redistricting maps, enacted in 2011, violate the First Amendment rights of Republicans. Though the maps have been upheld as legal, one judge described the shape of the 3rd Congressional District as "a broken-winged pterodactyl, laying prostrate across the center of the state."

The next redistricting process will take place after the 2020 census. Under the current system, the governor proposes congressional and state legislative districts and the General Assembly controls the final outcome.

For congressional redistricting, the governor proposes a map and the Assembly votes on it. For legislative districts, the governor proposes boundaries and lawmakers have 45 days to reject the map and substitute their own or allow it go into effect without a vote.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, was in office when the lines were last drawn in 2010. He acknowledged this year that those lines were gerrymandered, and has come out in favor of national redistricting reform.

Hogan pointed to voices of support for reform nationally. "President Obama supports nonpartisan redistricting," he said. "We need it in Republican states. We need it in Democratic states. It's about free and fair elections. Republican states are just as guilty as Democratic states.

"This is not a partisan thing. But we're not going to wait until 50 other states or five other states take action."

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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