Minorities and Republicans: The strange bedfellows of redistricting

Since a redistricting commission presented its plans for new congressional maps to Gov. Martin O'Malley, two groups have been particularly vocal in their complaints that it dilutes minority votes: African-American and Hispanic Democrats, and Republican elected officials. The first camp includes Rep. Donna Edwards, a Democrat who is angry that she would lose a minority-heavy Montgomery County portion of her district and pick up many white areas in Anne Arundel County instead. The second includes state Sens. Joe Getty and E.J. Pipkin, both of whom issued maps of their own this week that they say would allow the state to elect a third minority representative. State Republican Party Chairman Alex Mooney issued a similar proposal months ago.

If Republicans stand fast against the current plan — all but a certainty — it wouldn't take many disaffected Democrats to scuttle it. There are 34 African-American delegates and nine African-American senators, and it would take 13 Democratic defections in the House or six in the Senate to vote down whatever maps Mr. O'Malley introduces.


So could we see a strange-bedfellows alliance throw Maryland redistricting into chaos? Probably not. The maps Mr. O'Malley's commission produced are convoluted because they attempt to protect Democratic incumbents (and, as an incidental feature of the plan, Republican Rep. Andy Harris) while creating the possibility for a Democrat to knock off Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Western Maryland. Many of those objecting to the governor's map talk a good game about ensuring adequate minority representation, but their plans are larded with hefty doses of self interest, too. And when it comes time to try to build a coalition to buck the governor, those personal interests are going to start coming into conflict.

All three Republican plans call for the creation of a new majority-minority district along the Montgomery/Prince George's line. What that accomplishes is the packing of Democratic voters into a smaller number of seats, leaving the districts represented by Messrs. Bartlett and Harris relatively untouched and creating a new, more conservative-leaning district in Anne Arundel County and parts of Southern Maryland. Mr. Pipkin, who ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for Congress in 2008, drew a map that keeps his Eastern Shore base together but stops just short of including the Cockeysville home of his rival in that election, Mr. Harris. Mr. Getty's map, unlike the governor's proposal, puts all of Carroll County, where he lives, in a heavily Republican version of the Western Maryland-based 6th District.


Ms. Edwards, while objecting to the governor's plan, has been vague about how she would propose drawing the lines. But her primary concern appears to be keeping a portion of Montgomery County in her district. The Washington Post noted that she has raised twice as much money from Montgomery County as Prince George's and that under the governor's plan, she might be more vulnerable to a primary challenge from a rival in Prince George's. Creating a third minority district, as the Republicans have suggested, would require taking African-American and Hispanic voters away from her, and Ms. Edwards has made clear that she has little interest in that.

Although the debate about minority representation has focused on the Washington suburbs, the key to doing anything about it in the legislative process is Baltimore. City officials have pushed to maintain the current division of Baltimore between three congressional districts, which they see as a way to boost its influence in Congress. But any plan to add a majority-minority district to the Washington area entails shifting a seat from Baltimore — most likely, the one now occupied by Rep. John Sarbanes. Thus, the African-American lawmakers from Baltimore and its suburbs, who would likely be needed as part of a coalition to defeat the current redistricting proposal, might not see what's in it for them.

It's nothing new for a sitting congresswoman to speak out against a proposed redistricting map. Then-Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin did so 10 years ago, to little effect. Many people may dislike a governor's proposal, but the chances that they will coalesce around any one alternative are slim. The only avenue that has any likelihood of upending the process is a voting rights lawsuit, which the NAACP has said it might pursue. Whether such a challenge would have any chance in the courts is impossible to gauge, but the fact that the Southern Maryland-based 5th District is likely to become majority-minority in the next few years may make the case for overturning the maps more difficult.

Governor O'Malley may tweak the maps before submitting them to the legislature on Monday, but the commission's proposal, ugly though it may be, is more or less what we're going to get, no matter how many politicians try to score points along the way.