I have received another news release from bellyaching Maryland Republicans about how sinister Maryland Democrats in the General Assembly are setting up their new congressional districts to keep their 7-1 edge in the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s enough to make a fella clutch his pearls.
The latest overwrought missive comes from Kathy Szeliga, the Republican state delegate who represents parts of Harford and Baltimore counties. Her letter refers to “Maryland’s Dishonest Congressional Maps” and says she is “outraged.”
“The hubris and outright arrogance on display by the powerful supermajority of partisan Democrats does a disservice to all Marylanders,” she quotes herself as saying. “The biggest losers continue to be almost every rural and semi-rural community and all of Maryland suffers when absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
From the level of Szeliga’s outrage, you’d never think the following statements were true:
- Maryland Democrats outnumber Republicans by far and, thus, their elected delegates and senators wield considerable power in Annapolis. (As of November, there were 2,252,905 registered Maryland Democrats and 993,862 Republicans.)
- This fall, the Maryland State Board of Elections recorded nearly three times as many people registering as Democrats as Republicans. In fact, more people registered as independent voters (5,961) during October than as Republicans (3,992).
- If Republicans held the power to do so in the Maryland General Assembly, they likely would be engaged in the same kind of gerrymandering they’re bellyaching about now.
- Across the country, legislatures in about two-thirds of the states play the dominant role in congressional redistricting, and that means Republicans elsewhere create maps as partisan as the Democrats do in Maryland.
Does that make what the Democrats do right? No. “Maryland is one of the most notoriously gerrymandered states in the country,” declared The Atlantic.
Is the solution proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan, the Republican governor, the correct one? It’s a start.
The alternate map that Hogan’s special commission on redistricting came up with would have made some districts more competitive and could have turned the congressional delegation from 7-1 to 6-2 in the next election. That ratio would give Maryland a delegation more arithmetically reflective of the state’s voter registration.
So why don’t Maryland Democrats, advocates of good government and equal rights, switch gears and take the recommendations of Hogan’s commission? The commission’s three co-chairs and six members were equally Democrats, Republicans and independents. What’s not to like here?
In fact, Hogan’s solution is similar to the one proposed by a Democratic member of Congress, John Sarbanes, who represents Maryland’s wackily gerrymandered 3rd District.
Sarbanes included redistricting reform in his For The People Act. Among many other things, the act would have required states to create independent, multi-party redistricting commissions. None of the commission members could be campaign donors or lobbyists, and they would be required to form geographically compact districts and comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
As Sarbanes has argued, every state has to use an independent commission or the system won’t work, it won’t be fair. That’s why the proposal was included in the sweeping federal election reforms he champions.
Alas, when the bill came up for votes in the House and the Senate earlier this year, Republicans opposed it, and the commission requirement did not survive the cut.
And that’s the problem: lack of uniformity in drawing maps.
Because of what happens across the country, especially in the South and West, leaders of either party see no logical reason to relinquish power. So why, in this time of hyperpartisanship, should Maryland Democrats make it possible for Republicans to gain a seat in the House when such magnanimity exists nowhere else?
Anyone looking at the state of the Republican Party — in thrall to Donald Trump, complicit in spreading his lies about the 2020 election, indifferent to the insurrection of Jan. 6, opposed to just about everything President Joe Biden proposes to end the pandemic and broaden the nation’s safety net — would be a fool to help it gain a single vote in Congress.
So, until this epoch of super partisanship breaks and there’s real reform in Congress for all the states, it’s hard to see an end to extreme gerrymandering.
The commission Hogan created has merit, but unless it exists everywhere, as Sarbanes proposed, it won’t gain traction here.
Meanwhile, I have a message for bellyaching Republicans: If you want more power in Maryland, convince more Marylanders to vote for your candidates and your ideas.
Szeliga says “all Maryland suffers” from Democratic dominance. Really?
Maryland is one of the most prosperous states in the country with the second-highest level of education and the sixth-best quality of life, according to World Population Review. Of course, not everyone is prosperous, highly educated or enjoying a wonderful quality of life, but that’s the big picture, how we look relative to other states — especially all the red ones.
Everyone who lives here, no matter where and no matter their affiliation, takes pride in — or in some way benefits from — the state’s emphasis on education, on developing technologies, on our environmental vigilance, our geographic and cultural diversity, and the availability of advanced health care. One of the payoffs for that is another high ranking for the state: Maryland stands eighth in our percentage of residents fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
And imagine: We accomplished all that with only one Republican member of Congress.