A panel appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley recommended a new political map Monday evening that would pack Democrats into a redrawn 6th Congressional District in Western Maryland, giving the state's majority party a shot at sending a seventh Democrat to Washington.
The proposed map targets the 6th District representative, Republican Roscoe Bartlett, but would add GOP voters to the 1st Congressional District represented by the state's other Republican, Andrew Harris.
"I think you will have a very competitive 6th District when you didn't have that in the past," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a member of the redistricting panel. He said the new lines in Western Maryland reflect population growth along the Interstate 270 corridor.
The General Assembly's House and Senate Democratic caucuses were briefed on the plan by Jeanne D. Hitchcock, a longtime aide to O'Malley who chairs the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee.
Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat, stepped out of the meeting and said Hitchcock used broad hand gestures in her presentation reminding him of a weather report. Anderson said he came away from the meeting thinking "there will be a very cold front going through Western Maryland."
The map immediately drew criticism from Republicans, who view the redistricting process as blatant gerrymandering. "It is pure, raw, brute-force political power," said Del. Anthony O'Donnell, the House of Delegates minority leader.
Monday evening was the first time members of the General Assembly were officially presented the proposal of the advisory committee, a five-member panel that held hearings around the state over the summer.
The panel's recommendation is said to be similar in some respects to a map obtained Friday by The Baltimore Sun known as Option 1. A second map, known as Option 2, was designed to make all eight of the state's congressional districts attractive for Democrats.
Busch said that the governor will put the proposed map online for public comment for seven days and then consider making shifts in the borders. He said he expects O'Malley to call the General Assembly into special session Oct. 17 to approve the plan, and said he does not think the session will last longer than a week.
Lawmakers will have the opportunity to amend the map during the legislative process. The measure will be an emergency bill, and will therefore become law immediately after the governor signs it.
Officials said the proposed map makes only slight changes to congressional districts in the Baltimore area. The city would continue to be represented by three members of Congress.
Busch said a guiding principle in crafting the new map was to keep as many Marylanders as possible in their current congressional districts. On average, each new district keeps 70 percent of the population it previously held, he said.
The map, however, would put the western half of Montgomery County into the 6th District. That would mean the new congressional district would include all of state Sen. Rob Garagiola's General Assembly district. Garagiola, a favorite of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, has said he would consider running for Congress if a favorable map were drawn.
Garagiola said he still wants to see the final congressional borders before he commits to running for the House of Representatives. If the final map is similar to the one presented, "there would be a very good chance I would run," Garagiola said.
Besides Hitchcock, Busch and Miller, panel members are Richard Stewart, who also serves on the Maryland Stadium Authority, and James King, a former state delegatewho is the committee's only Republican.
O'Malley is not required to accept their map but is widely expected to accept at the least a very similar proposal. He's now in North Carolina raising money for the Democratic Governors Association.
Bartlett's Western Maryland seat is an appealing target for Democrats on several counts. Democratic strategists believe that over time it is becoming more liberal, as Washington-area residents move up the Interstate 270 corridor to Frederick and Hagerstown.
They also point to Bartlett's lackluster fundraising: The 85-year-old congressman raised a mere $28,000 in the second quarter of this year, putting him last among the state's eight-member delegation.