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Politics

Anne Arundel Democrats win big at General Assembly special session last week

A new congressional map proposed by the Maryland Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, which preserves an electoral advantage for the Democrats, was passed into law last week after the General Assembly overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto.

The map will position Democrats to maintain power in seven of the state’s eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and raise their chances at taking power in the one district they don’t currently have representation in: District 1.

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The new map adds part of Anne Arundel County to District 1. The most recent map had District 1 covering the entire Eastern Shore, as well as stretching into Harford, Baltimore and Carroll counties. The district is currently represented by Rep. Andy Harris, who is a Republican.

In the most recent map, Anne Arundel County was included in four districts: District 2, represented by C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger; District 3, represented by John Sarbanes; District 4, represented by Anthony Brown; and District 5, represented by Steny Hoyer, all Democrats.

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The new map has it being represented in districts 2 and 4 still but no longer in districts 3 and 5. With the addition of District 1, Anne Arundel County is now included in three districts instead of four.

In an attempt to pass a map with a smaller Democratic stronghold, Hogan assembled a separate commission led by three Democrats, three Republicans and three Independents, coined the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, to draw a separate map that would have kept Anne Arundel at four districts.

The congressional map approved by the Maryland General Assembly Wednesday. SOURCE: Maryland General Assembly Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission | Baltimore Sun graphic

In a public hearing on the redistricting process, Republicans championed the map from Hogan’s commission, arguing it was less partisan.

County Republicans agreed, saying the legislators’ map was gerrymandered — drawn in a way explicitly designed to benefit one party — in the Democrats’ favor.

“The maps created by the [Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission] continue voter suppression in Maryland,” said Anne Arundel Del. Sid Saab, a Republican, in a statement last week. After contemplating running for Anne Arundel County executive next year, Saab recently announced he had instead decided to run for reelection in the General Assembly.

“I’ve heard from my colleagues that Republicans do the same thing to Democrats in other states. That attitude is petty and we need to lead by example. Gerrymandering is wrong on both sides; however, I don’t care what those states do. The people of Maryland don’t care what other states do, but they want fair maps. They want the maps created by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission. One of the greatest prides of being an American is that I stand on principle even when it doesn’t benefit me. Can my Democratic colleagues say the same after this vote?”

Anne Arundel County Del. Nic Kipke, also a Republican, said the maps being enacted into law means the state is not progressing in terms of having maps that reflect the state’s geography and demographics.

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“Ten years ago Maryland made national news for passing maps that were the most aggressively gerrymandered maps in the country, and these maps are just as bad,” Kipke said in a statement.

State Sen. Pam Beidle, an Anne Arundel Democrat, on the other hand, said she believed the legislature’s map was inherently fair because it was created by officials elected by the residents of Maryland; it was the Democratic system at work, she said.

“I supported the legislature’s redistricting plan. It’s our responsibility to do the redistricting,” Beidle said in a statement. “The members of the legislative redistricting commission were all elected officials from both parties.”

Last week’s special session saw other successes for Anne Arundel Democrats as well.

A bill vetoed by Hogan and then overridden by the legislature last week was passed into law that enables local governments to set their own income tax rates. This kind of taxation, known as the “piggyback tax,” allows Maryland counties and Baltimore City to set taxes as high as 3.2%. While many jurisdictions have set their taxes at that maximum rate, Anne Arundel has it slightly lower at 2.81%.

“Some have characterized it as a tax increase. It’s not about increasing taxes; it’s about going back to the time when we had progressive taxes at the county level,” Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said. “We went in a regressive direction by having a flat rate for county taxes, and this allows counties the flexibility to charge a lower rate for lower-income people or a higher rate for higher-income people.”

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Pittman, a Democrat and longtime supporter of this kind of tax for the counties, said he may be using the law to the county’s advantage soon.

“As we look at our revenues and our budget for the year, we will certainly look at the possibility of using this new tool,” he said.

Another bill passed into law last week, despite a veto from Hogan, relates to the transfer tax — a kind of tax paid when a property is sold from one owner to the next. The law allows the transfer tax in Anne Arundel County to be increased on sales worth more than $1 million. The extra money could then be used for affordable housing.

“I’m very serious about creating a housing trust fund for this county. Housing prices are going higher and higher, and people who work in this county — police officers, teachers, people who work regular, hourly wage jobs — just can’t afford to live here under these circumstances,” Pittman said.

“Housing trust funds are flexible in how they can be used. They can be used for rental assistance, they can be used to produce new affordable housing with subsidies, so I’m very serious about creating one. This real estate transfer is only one of many potential sources of revenue for it.”

For the record

This story has been updated to correct the number of districts in which Anne Arundel County falls under the new redistricting map. The new map has the county being represented in districts 1, 2 and 4.


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