Gov. Martin O'Malley's congressional redistricting plan sailed through the House of Delegates Wednesday on a 91 to 46 vote, with only five Democrats voting against the governor.
The measure requires another vote in the Senate because of technical changes before it goes to O'Malley for his signature as emergency legislation. Both chambers are expected to adjourn tomorrow.
O'Malley's plan that shifts the majority of Laurel from House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer's 5th District to the 4th District, currently represented by Democrat Donna Edwards.
The Senate voted 33 to 13 Tuesday, which was mainly along party lines with only one Democrat, District 26 Sen. C. Anthony Muse of Prince George's County, voting against the plan.
In a last ditch effort to avoid a congressional shift for Laurel, 21st District Delegation members in the house who represent the city, offered an amendment on the floor Wednesday that would have supported the majority of the governor's redistricting plan, while keeping Laurel in Hoyer's District 5. Not surprisingly, the amendment was defeated.
The plan the House and Senate approved shifts all of the Laurel precincts in the state 21st District to Edward's 4th District, along with Laurel precincts in the state 23rd District, except for the Larchdale Road and South Laurel Drive communities.
Throughout the week, as the governor's plans and other redistricting plans were debated, Laurel residents opposed to being placed in the 4th District made their positions known with emails and Internet posts. After the Senate vote, former City Councilman and blogger Rick Wilson sent out a letter expressing his disappointment.
"Cynicism and politics drove this (redistricting) map and we've been thrown under the bus for partisan priorities," Wilson said in an interview. "A congressional district is more than a collection of voting drones who are expected to blindly vote like some party consultant predicts. I'm disheartened today over the loss of community, of what we could become, of what we deserve to become because of cynical, raw politics."
Wilson was making reference to charges from Republican General Assembly members and some others that the governor's map was drawn to enhance the chances of an additional Democrat being elected to Congress from Maryland.
"I'm a proud partisan Democrat and if we can get another Democrat in Congress, that would be great," said District 21 Del. Ben Barnes, of Laurel, who said he would vote for the governor's redistricting plan. "You can't separate politics from redistricting and the Supreme Court has agreed. The governor's plan is not a perfect plan, but it is a good plan."
On Monday, Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker III testified in Annapolis in support of O'Malley's plan, along with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake and Montgomery County Executive Isaiah Legett.
"I strongly believe that it will enhance the representation of Prince George's County residents on Capitol Hill," said Baker. "By increasing the amount of Prince Georgians represented by the 4th congressional district member and maintaining the continuity of the 5th congressional district, this plan offers equitable minority representation."
Although earlier in the week, District 21 Sen. James Rosapepe, who represents Laurel, said he had no objections to most of the city being moved to the 4th District, because he felt Edwards would represent Laurel well, he said after hearing the concerns of residents that he passed their thoughts along to the senate leadership.
"I shared those concerns with the drafters of the plan, but unfortunately, there was not sufficient support for making such a change before the bill was voted on in the Senate," Rosapepe said in an e-mail message.
Although Edwards has made it clear she wanted to keep her Montgomery County constituents and introduced an alternative redistricting plan to that effect, Rosapepe said he is confident that Edwards, if reelected, will represent the city well and that he would encourage her to get to know the community and work closely with its residents.
Because the various redistricting plans legislators considered kept 70 percent of residents in their current districts, 21st District Del. Barbara Frush said most people in Annapolis were relatively pleased with the plan approved by the senate.
"Ours in Laurel has been the most problematic, and we've all talked to the leadership about our concerns," Frush said Tuesday evening. "But however this comes out, I guarantee you that Steny (Hoyer) won't abandon us, and will continue to be responsive and helpful to Laurel. I guarantee that. We'll still have him representing College Park, which is in the 21st District, so we'll still work with him on issues."
"I spoke with Hoyer on the phone Wednesday night to let him know that there were folks who were unhappy with this," Rosapepe said. "He was unhappy, too."
Rosapepe said that Hoyer's district has grown the most since the last census, so the congressman had to give up some of his district's northern population. Rosapepe said Hoyer told him he plans to pay "a lot of attention" to Laurel.
Barnes agreed that Hoyer would stay involved in the city and that Edwards would represent the area just as well.
"Laurel will never lose Steny Hoyer because he is committed to us. He has represented Laurel too long and will continue to look out for us. He will still be close by, and if we or the mayor calls him, I know he will help us," Barnes said. "He's the minority whip and looks out for the nation. Of all the communities that involves, I'm sure Laurel will be on top of his list."
Barnes added that it is inevitable that at some point areas may lose their longtime congressional representatives as population shifts occur. And he and the other 21st District delegates predicted that Edwards will be a strong advocate for the area.
"Donna Edwards is big on pushing issues that affect families, children and women, so it will be a plus to have her represent Laurel. With Hoyer continuing to help us, we're actually adding another person in Congress to look out for Laurel," Barnes said. "Ten years from now, we'll look back on this as a good thing."