Proposed congressional map draws more criticism

A congressional map drafted by Maryland Democrats drew more opposition Wednesday as Republican leaders offered alternative proposals, the state NAACP requested changes and the O'Malley administration released 600 comments — mostly critical — submitted by citizens.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's office said it was unclear when he will unveil his final proposal to the General Assembly, which will meet in special session next week to approve new boundaries for the state's eight congressional districts. The map will govern Maryland's elections to Congress for the next decade, starting with the April 3 primary.

Two more Republican alternatives were offered to the map proposed by the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee, a five-member panel appointed by O'Malley. The committee's proposal would make it harder for the Maryland GOP to keep two seats in the state's delegation to Congress, and 30 percent of Marylanders would find themselves in a different congressional district than today.

The Republican leaders of the General Assembly, House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell and Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs, said Wednesday they would offer a plan initially proposed over the summer by the state Republican Party. The two are pressing the Democratic leadership for a hearing and expect to offer the GOP plan next week as a floor amendment.

And Del. Michael Hough and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, both Republicans, said they'll introduce a plan first proposed by the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, an African-American political group.

Sen. Joseph M. Getty, a Carroll County Republican, put out a separate proposal earlier in the week intended to drive home his concern that the Democrats' map would give the Baltimore area more federal representation then its dwindling population merits. Getty argues that the proposed map cheats Western Maryland.

All three GOP proposals would create compact districts without the octopus shapes that mark the proposal drawn by the governor's panel.

Meanwhile some members of the Legislative Black Caucus and the Maryland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People met Wednesday in Annapolis with top aides to O'Malley, requesting a number of changes to the proposed map.

Elbridge James, the NAACP's political action chair, said he expressed concerns raised by Hispanic voters in Montgomery County, whom he said are nervous about being put in a district with conservative Frederick County, a center of policies that target illegal immigrants.

"If you don't have the voting trends or the voting numbers, you could have somebody come out of [the new congressional district] who would support anti-immigration bills," he said.

James said he asked that the newly drawn 4th District maintain a foothold in Montgomery County, perhaps picking up Silver Spring and Takoma Park. He echoed a concern raised by Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards that her new proposed district does not include any of Montgomery County.

Some Marylanders who submitted comments about the committee's proposed map offered another common complaint about the new 4th District: It would combine a liberal part of Prince George's County with more conservative areas of Anne Arundel County.

Sharon Wood of Severna Park wrote that she was "appalled" that the map would put her Anne Arundel neighborhood in a congressional district with Prince George's communities.

"What rationale are you using to say that these areas have anything in common? The Anne Arundel area's concerns are vastly different," she said.

Catharina M. Astrom of Arnold wrote "to strongly object" to including Severna Park and Arnold in a district with Prince George's County.

"Playing politics with our lives like that is incredibly irresponsible and unfair!" Astrom wrote. "Shame on all those involved with this."

About one-sixth of the emails Marylanders submitted over the past week to the Maryland Department of Planning appeared to have been prompted by Common Cause, a progressive group that encouraged members to criticize the proposed map as "being drawn by politicians who are more concerned with protecting their party's political fortunes than respecting our state's communities and voters."

Others put that argument into their own words. Brian P. Brooks of Kensington wrote that the redistricting plan is motivated by "partisanship, greed and unfairness. … This is clearly a power grab to try to [take] power away from Rep. Roscoe Bartlett."

Some Eastern Shore Democrats complained that the proposed map would keeping them in a conservative district.

"The proposed redistricting map will leave the 1st District in the hands of the most extreme elements of the Republican Party," wrote Marilyn Furlong of Easton. "The district will be so hopeless that the Democrats will not be able to find a qualified candidate willing to spend the money and effort to be a sacrificial lamb."

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