Ben Jealous, the Democratic candidate for Maryland governor, has pledged to deliver an all-Democratic congressional delegation if he’s elected.
At the Baltimore County Democratic Party Unity Dinner in Timonium on Thursday, Jealous warned his fellow Democrats that Republican Gov. Larry Hogan would work to place more Republicans in Congress.
Jealous, who is trailing Hogan among county voters according to recent polls, said he would make sure there are none.
“Our congressional delegation is on the ballot this November — not just their re-election, but their districts,” Jealous told the audience. “I would send eight Democrats to Congress and he would send four — and four Republicans.”
Whoever is elected governor in November will oversee the state’s redistricting process after the 2020 census, although the governor’s plan would need the approval of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.
Maryland’s congressional delegation is currently made up of seven Democrats and one Republican: Rep. Andy Harris. Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 2-to-1 in Maryland, in terms of registered voters.
“If you like Andy Harris and you want him, times four, vote for Larry Hogan,” Jealous said in his a speech that drew applause. “But if you want leadership like [Reps. John] Sarbanes and [Dutch] Ruppersberger and [Elijah] Cummings and [Jamie] Raskin, and the rest of our great congressional delegation, you better vote Democratic up and down the ballot.”
Harris is facing a challenge this election from Democrat Jesse Colvin.
Kevin Harris, a senior adviser to Jealous, said the gubernatorial nominee does not have a specific proposal in mind to redraw Maryland’s congressional maps.
Harris said Jealous wants to “protect” the seven safe Democratic seats in Maryland and “campaign to get Andy Harris out of office.”
“The key point is, if Larry Hogan is drawing this map, expect less Democrats,” he said.
While other states’ districts are gerrymandered to favor Republicans, Maryland’s map was drawn to benefit Democrats. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, was governor when the lines were last drawn, based on the 2010 census. O’Malley acknowledged last year that those lines were the result of gerrymandering, and has come out in favor of national redistricting reform.
“It was also my intent to create ... a district where the people would be more likely to elect a Democrat than a Republican,” O’Malley said in a deposition for a lawsuit alleging Maryland’s map was unfairly crafted.
Maryland’s current map has survived every legal challenge to date, but also received harsh criticism. A federal judge wrote in 2011 that Maryland’s 3rd District, held by Sarbanes, is “reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”
Hogan has argued for a nonpartisan commission to draw districts that more fairly represent the political leanings of a geographic area — a move that would likely add at least one seat favorable to Republicans. Maryland Democrats have argued that they will relent in using such tactics only if the GOP does in other states, as well.
Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College, said it would be nearly impossible for Hogan to gerrymander the state because of the Democrats’ control of the General Assembly. A Democratic governor, however, could do just that, he said.
“It was disheartening, because in the past Jealous has indicated he was opposed to partisan gerrymandering,” Eberly said of Jealous’ comments. “I get it was a party rally, but I don’t know if there is another way to interpret what he said, other than a pledge to gerrymander the state worse than it is.”
After the 2010 census, Democrats considered a map where they controlled all eight congressional seats, but rejected that idea, Eberly said. It would have required drawing a district that would jump across the Chesapeake Bay and connect the Eastern Shore to the Washington suburbs.