As Tuesday's congressional primary approaches, Western Maryland Democrats, longing for a change in representation, have reason to be optimistic. Republicans, on the other hand, have reason to sing the blues.
The change in the 6th Congressional District from solid "red" to mostly "blue" illustrates both the strength of the Maryland Democratic Party and the existing convoluted redistricting process — a process badly in need of change.
One frustrated Western Maryland Republican delegate, Neil Parrott of Washington County, has started a petition drive to bring the state redistricting map to referendum. If the required 56,000 signatures are verified in time, the issue would go before the voters to decide in the Nov. 6 General Election ballot.
Interestingly, Maryland state Sen. Robert Garagiola, a Democratic candidate for Congress in the 6th District, told me he would support all states using an independent or bipartisan committee to handle redistricting. (Many have opined that Mr. Garagiola was the "chosen one" for whom the new 6th District was drawn.)
Population changes reported by the census every 10 years become the justification for redistricting, a task handled by state legislatures in 36 states. Seven states have only one representative, due to the size of their population. The remaining states use an independent or bipartisan commission, with a few of those states retaining state legislative approval.
Further demonstrating the spiteful partisan aspect of the redistricting process, 13 members of Congress are facing challenges from fellow incumbents of their own party in primaries across the nation this year.
One such race was in Ohio, where redistricting by a Republican-controlled state legislature resulted in Democratic Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur facing each other in the primary election (Ms. Kaptur won).
In Maryland, strong Democratic voter registration has resulted in a Democrats holding the governor's office, 35 of 47 state Senate seats, 98 of 141 state delegate seats, 6 of 8 House seats and both U.S. Senate seats.
However, over the last 10 elections, Democratic candidates running in Western Maryland's 6th Congressional District averaged 39 percent of the vote — losing to Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett each time — due primarily to a Republican voter registration advantage.
Enter redistricting. Democrats now hold a voter registration advantage over Republicans of 183,000 to 141,000, with "Unaffiliated/Other" at about 90,000.
Portions of Western Maryland counties with heavy Republican voter registration were deleted and portions of Montgomery County with heavy Democratic voter registration added when the new 6th District was created. The result is that Montgomery County residents now make up close to 50 percent of registered voters and 57 percent of Democratic registered voters.
The seat, now considered "leans Democrat," is certainly part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Drive for 25" effort to regain a majority in the House. Thanks to the gerrymandering, five Democrats and eight Republicans, including Mr. Bartlett, have filed to run for the seat, fueling all of the political shenanigans voters have come to expect.
The mudslinging among Democratic candidate campaigns has been in full force, heightened by the knowledge that the winner will have a significant voter registration advantage in the general election.
One Frederick voter summed up the resentment held by many Western Maryland voters at being lumped in with Montgomery County, saying: "I still maintain strong objections to being represented by a metro politician."
Meanwhile, a Montgomery County woman who is active in Democratic politics told me: "I adore Chris Van Hollen and am disappointed that we no longer will be in his district." (Mr. Van Hollen, a Democrat represents Maryland's Eighth Congressional District.)
Thomas Schaller, in a column published recently in The Sun, described the existing redistricting process by saying: "In a democracy, voters are supposed to pick the politicians who represent them. But gerrymandering too often inverts this relationship: Politicians pick their voters, typically with incumbent-protection and party-expansion objectives in mind. Is it any wonder that a Congress full of mostly safe incumbents representing contorted districts suffers from record-low approval ratings?"
Messrs. Schaller and Garagiola both make good points. To ensure a more reasonable and balanced redistricting process across the country, it would be sensible for Maryland and the rest of the states to adopt the policy used by the handful of states that use an independent or bipartisan committee.
This process, if adopted by all states, would aid in reducing the acrimony and gridlock prevalent in Congress today. Perhaps, representatives would then be elected who would work together to move America forward.
George Wenschhof is publisher/editor of FrederickPolitics.com, a political news and commentary website.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun