Senate gives initial approval to O'Malley map

Gov. Martin O'Malley's political redistricting plan earned a quick first stamp of approval from the Maryland Senate on Monday night despite a day full of objections from top Republicans — and a sitting Democratic congresswoman — who slammed the map as partisan gerrymandering that dilutes minority voices.

The Senate was prepared to meet late into the night Monday to consider S.B. 1, O'Malley's proposal to redraw Maryland's eight congressional districts, likely adding another Democrat to the state's delegation to Capitol Hill.

But the Republican caucus wound up offering just one amendment, and the Senate moved quickly to give the bill preliminary approval on a voice vote.

The Senate is expected to give its final approval Tuesday morning, sending the bill to the House of Delegates.

Leaders from both chambers expressed optimism that the plan will be approved this week. "I think the votes are there," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, adding, "I know how people are going to vote before they do."

Miller predicted that none of the Senate Republicans would support the plan and guessed that "some dissident Democrats" would also vote No. "It is going to be close," Miller said. "But I think the vote is going to be there."

House Speaker Michael E. Busch also was optimistic Monday afternoon. "We're there," he said, though he added, "You never count all the chickens until they are home."

Maryland's legislature is meeting this week in rare special session to redraw the state's congressional boundaries and approve a map that will stand for the next 10 years. The proposal by O'Malley would move 30 percent of Marylanders into new congressional districts.

Some House members of the Legislative Black Caucus have told The Baltimore Sun they will not support the bill because it fails to create a third congressional district controlled by racial minorities.

At a hearing on the proposal Monday afternoon in Annapolis, U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards of Prince George's County told a joint committee considering the map that O'Malley's proposal is "deeply flawed" when it comes to protecting minority voting rights.

The African-American Democrat said she prepared her own map, which she said would be offered as an amendment in coming days.

Edwards has argued vociferously in recent weeks that the three congressional districts proposed for Montgomery County do not account for the growth of blacks, Hispanics and Asians in the region.

"In none of those districts, despite what you've heard, is there real possibility of electing a minority," Edwards told the committee Monday. "Having some possibility of minority representation in Montgomery County has to be a priority over whatever the political considerations."

But Edwards appeared to be increasingly isolated in her effort to alter the map.

She acknowledged that she is the only member of the state's congressional delegation appealing for review, and her testimony came minutes after the county executives in Prince George's and Montgomery counties — Rushern L. Baker III and Isiah "Ike" Leggett, respectively — expressed their strong support for the plan.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, an O'Malley ally, also testified in favor of the map.

All three local leaders are black.

Edwards' map would keep eastern Montgomery County in her 4th District. That territory would fall to Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen under O'Malley's proposal. But Edwards did not widely distribute a copy of her proposal to members of the committee, prompting a series of inquiries about how her plan would affect various parts of the state.

Under questions from state Democrats, Edwards acknowledged her proposal would actually reduce the share of minority voters in several of the state's congressional districts. She also acknowledged that her proposal would carve both Montgomery and Howard counties into four separate congressional districts — a move that drew the ire of lawmakers representing those areas.

"So we'd have 50 percent of the congressmen in the state — is that about right?" quipped Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat.

"You're giving us four congressmen — I don't know what advantage we get, I don't know what advantage minorities get," argued Del. Sheila Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat.

"I appreciate your comments," Edwards responded. "I'll let your fellow elected leaders who represent minority communities, particularly in your district, speak to those concerns."

On the Senate floor Monday night, Republicans made one effort to pick off some Democratic votes by offering a proposal from the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, a group formed last year to increase the number of congressional districts controlled by minority populations. The plan would create a third majority-minority district.

The group called O'Malley's map "institutional racism" at a news conference earlier in the day and has continued to threaten a lawsuit in federal court if the current proposal is approved. The group has aligned itself with the state Republican party, which is also opposed to the map.

The proposal "is an egregious effort by the state to dilute the voting strength of African-Americans and Latinos in the state of Maryland," said Carletta Fellows, a spokeswoman for the group and former congressional staffer for Edwards.

But the Senate roundly rejected their alterative map, with Sen. Delores Kelley, an African-American lawmaker from Baltimore County, rising to speak against it. "It looks like chopped suey," Kelley said, pointing out that it cobbles together disparate communities.

In the end, a single Democrat crossed party lines. Sen. James Brochin, a white lawmaker from Baltimore County, voted with the GOP caucus in support of the Fannie Lou Hamer plan.

The GOP did not offer any additional amendments.

During the brief debate, several Senate Republicans complimented testimony earlier in the day from Edwards.