Carroll legislators support statewide redistricting reform proposed by Hogan

Carroll legislators say they are thrilled to see Gov. Larry Hogan pushing to keep a campaign promise by appointing a commission to study legislative and congressional redistricting reform in Maryland, which has been identified in studies as among the most gerrymandered states in the country.

During a news conference Thursday, Hogan announced the creation of the 11-member commission — four members are to be appointed by General Assembly leadership and seven by Hogan — that will review approaches used in other states that have established independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions. A report is expected to be completed by Nov. 3. The commission will also submit a recommendation for a constitutional amendment addressing redistricting that will be introduced as legislation during next year's legislative session in the Maryland General Assembly.


Before a constitutional amendment can be placed on a voter ballot, it must receive a three-fifths vote in both chambers of the General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats by a count of 124 to 64.

During his State of the State Address in February, Hogan stressed the importance of addressing the shape of Maryland's federal and state legislative districts.

Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, said this is another example of the governor carrying through on a campaign promise.

"He has done what he has promised and he will follow through," Krebs said. "When he decides to act on an issue he acts on them decisively."

She said the creation of the commission is long overdue. Krebs, who has served as a delegate since 2002, was forced out of the former District 9B, which was represented by one delegate and into a more crowded three-delegate District 5 field due to the state redistricting that took effect in 2012.

"We have some of the worst gerrymandered districts in the nation," Krebs said. "We are one of only four states in the country that have varying number of legislators per district. Some districts have three [legislators], some have two and others have one. Redistricting was exploited to benefit Democrats."

According to a study conducted by Azavea, a geospatial software firm, Maryland has the most gerrymandered congressional districts based on three different formulas, and the second-most gerrymandered districts based on a fourth.

Democrats have a 2-1 advantage in voter registration in Maryland, and account for seven of the state's eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Krebs added that while in Maryland it has historically been Democrats who have controlled the redistricting process, Republicans have acted similarly in states like Texas where they dominate.

"This isn't just about Democrats," Krebs said. "Republicans take advantage of it, but there comes a point where you look at a map and it doesn't make sense. Districts should be compact and recognize geographic boundaries."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat, said he wants to work with the governor, but he believes the issue needs to be settled nationally, with Democratic and Republican input, so individual states aren't put at a disadvantage relative to the others.

Del. April Rose, R-District 5, agreed with Krebs' sentiment that a closer look at redistricting in Maryland has been a long time coming.

"Gerrymandering is unfair and it does a disservice to members of both parties," Rose said. "This is long overdue and I would love to see something happen but I'm not sure the Democrats will allow it."

Rose said she does not believe it is the governor's intent to use the commission as a means to utilize redistricting to benefit Republicans; rather, he will see it as another area of compromise.


"I don't take him as that type of governor or person," she said. "Since he's been elected he's made great strides trying to find areas of compromise where we can work together. That's coming from his business background: When you come to the table, you aren't going to get everything but that everyone gets something. We can find a way moving forward that's best for everyone."

Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5, said he hopes this will lead to removing partisanship from the redistricting process, thus making it more fair.

"It's kind of silly to me that I live in a [congressional] district that starts in Taneytown and ends in Ocean City," Shoemaker said.

Congressional redistricting removed Carroll from being encompassed entirely by District 6, along with the rest of Western Maryland, and instead split Carroll in Congressional District 1, a seat currently held by Eastern Shore Republican Andy Harris, and District 8 represented by Democrat Chris Van Hollen, of Montgomery County.

Hogan's intent, Shoemaker said, is to ultimately create a nonpartisan redistricting commission that will reconfigure Maryland's districts to ensure they are both fair and realistic.

He envisions such a commission as being made up of election law experts and a broad cross-section of the populous, Shoemaker said.

"I think it could be citizens — average citizens — who are nonpartisan who would be tasked with the responsibility of ultimately coming up with a district map that is representative of the population in a more fair fashion than we see presently," Shoemaker said.

Maryland's 2010 redistricting has been the subject of several lawsuits filed by organizations and individuals, including one filed in Carroll County Circuit Court by Christopher Eric Bouchat, a Carroll resident who ran a failed campaign in 2014 for a delegate seat in District 9A, which includes parts of Carroll and Howard counties.

Bouchat said he wrote a letter to Hogan last week with his recommendation on how future redistricting should be decided. His plan would call for citizens from each of the state's 23 counties and Baltimore City to be appointed via election to serve on a redistricting panel.

"It would empower the people and leave a tremendous legacy for [Hogan]," Bouchat said.

It has the added benefit of removing the power legislators currently hold by being responsible for redistricting, thereby creating a truly nonpartisan effort, he said.

"The greatest part of our nation is that in the end, people get it," Bouchat said. "At the end, they come out with the best results. This shouldn't be a board appointed by the governor or the General Assembly, but by the people. That will solve the problem hands-down."

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this article.