Jimmy DeButts: Meandering along Maryland's gerrymandered 3rd District

Jimmy DeButts
Contact Reporterjdebutts@capgaznews.com

It looks like X-rayed lungs on a Rorschach test.

No, it’s a smashed spider with broken legs.

It’s just ridiculous.

There’s no consensus on what Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District resembles. There’s no singular policy or priority that unites a district carved out of four counties and Baltimore City.

On a Wednesday journey that included stops in each municipality, it was easy to find shock and disgust among the electorate. Some folks were unaware of the district’s meandering borders and reckless design.

The Hampden tattoo shop employee saw lungs when presented with a District 3 map.

The White Oak barber was unimpressed. “Are you for real?”

The Columbia liquor store owner said it appeared a spider’s guts and legs exploded under extreme pressure.

The Overlea seafood retailer just shook her head.

Perhaps the Democratic party’s intent was confusion and exasperation. The designers of what’s known as America’s most gerrymandered district should be embarrassed (they aren’t). They should be ashamed.

They should be forced to drive the district during rush hour for eternity.

Maybe Pablo Picasso could envision a serpentine outline of rigged elective malfeasance. Any sane person would consider District 3 an insult to representative governance.

District 3’s distorted drawing has some residents of Congressional District 6 seeing red. They feel the state’s conservative-leaning constituency was gerrymandered to limit their elective power. Their case heads to the Supreme Court March 28. The high court heard complaints against Republican-drawn districts in Wisconsin late last year.

We know gerrymandering is a national epidemic. And it’s killing democracy.

The gerrymanderers think they’re slick, slicing up maps to lock in their control. They sneer as they insult the intelligence of their constituents. They didn’t even try to make it appear as if the districts are fair.

It’s by design, and it’s only escalating divisive political discourse.

Gerrymandering emboldens party polarization and weakens the desire — or need — to compromise. The bad actors who play these games have no interest in service.

They’re in a perpetual state of arrested development. They act like squabbling siblings:

“He did it first.” “She’s worse than me.”

They’ll point fingers. They’ll deflect and redirect.

It’s a perfect example of what is wrong with our “leaders.” Sadly, these “me-first” politicians squander taxpayer money by fighting all the way to the Supreme Court.

They’re going to lose. But not really. They’ll maintain power because — for the most part — the states are red and blue. Wisconsin and Pennsylvania (also mixed up in the gerrymandering scheme) are battleground states so there might be some progress toward righteousness.

Don’t hold your breath.

It’s through this prism we must applaud and uplift the efforts of folks like Del. Michael Malone, R-Crofton. Malone filed legislation this year to address our state’s gerrymandered districts. He wants to add language to the state constitution requiring Maryland congressional districts be drawn “of adjoining territory, be compact in form and be of substantially equal population.”

It makes sense. People would understand them. The districts would look more like children’s building blocks than the monsters in their nightmares.

Since the bill calls for changing the state Constitution, residents would vote for the change in the 2018 November election. A Feb. 26 hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. before the Rules Committee.

Malone said Anne Arundel County suffers from gerrymandering. With so many competing voices and priorities, it’s nearly impossible to coalesce around common issues. While traffic around Fort George G. Meade or cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay might rank high in our county, Montgomery County residents might put funding for the Food and Drug Administration’s White Oak facility or to the surrounding area’s infrastructure as their top priority.

South Baltimore residents might seek aid for the multibillion-dollar Port Covington project.

A barber in White Oak Plaza wants relief from speed cameras. The tattoo shop employee wants more resources for public safety. The seafood retailer begs for help with Baltimore County’s “horrible” schools.

Malone said everyone suffers when districts are spread thin and wide.

“We don’t have the one advocate that’s all in for Anne Arundel County,” Malone said. “There’s big challenges to being responsive (to constituent needs).”

Rep. John Sarbanes represents District 3. He co-sponsored the Redistricting Reform Act. If passed, that legislation would require each state to create “independent, multi-party citizen redistricting commissions to conduct open and transparent statewide redistricting processes after each decennial census,” according to an emailed statement from his spokesman.

Sarbanes, a Democrat, endorses a federal reform strategy “rather than piecemeal reform on a state-by-state basis.”

That’s a fine dream. But it ain’t reality. He’s suggesting those benefiting from the current system — the same ones who are deadlocked 90 percent of the time — to voluntarily surrender power.

Bruce Campbell should star in that fantasy film.

There is a simple remedy: Tear up the smashed spider and embrace right angles.

This story has been updated to reflect Congressional District 6 residents will challenge the map’s legality before the Supreme Court in March.

Jimmy DeButts can be reached at 410-280-5915 or follow on Twitter @jd3217.

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