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Editorial: Obama should answer Hogan's call on redistricting

Gov. Larry Hogan, just the second Republican governor in the past four and a half decades in Maryland, is seeking an unlikely ally in President Barack Obama. We're hoping the most powerful Democrat in the land answers the call.

On March 31, Hogan wrote a letter to the president, asking for his help in convincing Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly to allow a floor vote on Hogan's proposed redistricting reform, stating that "On this issue, we are in complete agreement."

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The governor wants to form an independent commission to redraw Maryland's congressional and state legislative districts, which are considered by many to be among the most gerrymandered in the nation. Hogan identified redistricting reform as a priority at the beginning of this year's legislative session and had advocated for it prior to taking office.

Obama has also been an advocate for redistricting reform, noting in his January State of the Union speech that the country needs a bipartisan group to "end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around."

In the letter, Hogan appealed to Obama to encourage Maryland's lawmakers to take a vote on the governor's bill before the end of this year's session April 11, noting, "[n]ext year, we may not have as strong an advocate in the White House as you have been on this issue."

"…[W]ith the weight of the White House behind independent redistricting in Maryland, I know we can deliver real change and I am hopeful that you can take action to encourage Maryland's lawmakers to bring this matter to the floor for a vote," Hogan wrote.

It's no surprise that Democratic leaders in both chambers in Annapolis would mothball Hogan's legislation, which seeks to replace the current, governor-led redistricting process with a nonpartisan Apportionment Commission that would be required to base the districts on population, compactness and natural boundaries. Approving it could potentially take away from the Democrats' dominance in state politics. Democrats might also be counting on Hogan not winning re-election in 2018. If he does earn a second term, giving him the power to redraw the districts in 2020, Democrats might be more amenable to a nonpartisan process then.

However, it's plain as day that Maryland's current congressional and legislative districts don't make much sense. Maryland's 3rd Congressional District is considered the most gerrymandered in the nation, once referred to by a federal judge as "reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state."

Carroll County's congressional districts are also representative of the gerrymandering of the 2010 redistricting, when our deep-red county was removed from the 6th District with politically similar Western Maryland in a successful effort to replace Republican Roscoe Bartlett with a Democrat in Washington. Northern Carroll is now represented by Andy Harris, an Eastern Shore Republican, in District 1 and southern Carroll and Westminster by Montgomery County Democrat Chris Van Hollen in District 8.

State legislative districts were redrawn here as well, giving Howard and Frederick counties more say in Districts 4 and 9, both of which include slivers of Carroll County.

Hopefully, Obama answers Hogan's call and the president can convince Maryland lawmakers to take their state from being among the worst offenders of political gerrymandering to a shining example in redistricting reform.

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