Maryland has a new set of congressional district maps, following a back-and-forth Thursday with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoing the maps and Democratic lawmakers immediately overturning the decision.
The Republican governor took out his veto pen before reporters during a State House news conference, making a public show of opposition to the map, and calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to add Maryland to a federal lawsuit filed earlier this week challenging congressional and state legislative maps drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature in Texas.
Hogan predicted that Democratic lawmakers would swiftly override his veto but vowed to mount a legal battle against the maps and contended that the courts would have the final say over what he claimed were “disgracefully gerrymandered” and “illegal” congressional districts drawn by Maryland Democrats.
Two hours later, the General Assembly did just that, voting 96-42 in the House of Delegates and 32-14 in the state Senate to override Hogan’s veto.
“These gerrymandered maps will be challenged in both the federal and state courts. These maps disenfranchise voters, they violate the Voting rights Act, and they are in violation of numerous state and federal laws,” Hogan said.
“The courts will be the final arbiter, not partisan legislators. These maps cannot and will not stand.”
Republican lawmakers made a point of arguing in support of Hogan’s veto, but without much expectation of success as they are significantly outnumbered in the General Assembly.
Del. Christopher Adams, an Eastern Shore Republican, said it’s disappointing that the courts will have the final say, not lawmakers.
“We want the best for our citizens and passing it to a judge is not the way forward,” said Adams, the minority whip in the House.
Democrats, assured in the outcome, said little during the veto override process. Sen. Craig Zucker, a Montgomery County Democrat, said the map-drawing was “a fair, transparent process” with more compact districts that assure the state complies with the federal Voting Rights Act.
With the veto override complete, the next step is likely to be a court challenge from Fair Maps Maryland, an anti-gerrymandering advocacy group run by a longtime Hogan political adviser.
The new map preserves the Democratic dominance in Maryland, with that party likely to retain control over seven of the eight congressional seats in the state. And the one district that’s currently represented by a Republican, the Eastern Shore-based 1st Congressional district represented by U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, will become more competitive under the new map as well, giving Democratic candidates a better shot at challenging the six-term conservative firebrand.
The map was drawn and endorsed by a committee of lawmakers where Democrats outnumbered Republicans, and it was efficiently marched through the legislative process during a special session of the General Assembly this week. No Republican lawmaker voted in favor of the new congressional map.
States are required to redraw their electoral maps once every decade to adjust for population changes since the last census and ensure that voters have roughly equal say in electing politicians to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Republicans mounted a series of arguments against the map throughout the special legislative session, including noting that while the districts look marginally better than the old map, they still are confusing and connect far-flung communities that have little in common.
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Only one Democrat joined with Republicans in voting against the maps and supporting Hogan’s veto: Del. Gabriel Acevero of Montgomery County, who said in an interview that he opposes partisan and political drawing of the districts in all forms. He said not only was the legislature’s process flawed, but so was a commission “hand-picked” by the governor that also proposed a map.
“Both parties are wrong,” he said.
Earlier in the week, Republican lawmakers attempted to substitute the map drawn by Hogan’s commission. The commission, comprised of an equal number of Republicans, Democrats and independents, drew neat lines keeping many counties intact. Those efforts failed on party-line votes.
Hogan on Thursday endorsed a nationwide federal ban on partisan gerrymandering, something widely supported by most Maryland Democrats as well. But while many Democrats in the state contend that skewing electoral maps to their advantage is necessary to offset Republican-led gerrymandering efforts in other states, the governor contended that the state should take the lead in eliminating the practice.
“That isn’t to say the (Republican) side isn’t guilty,” Hogan said Thursday, “but two wrongs don’t make a right.”
A number of Maryland Democratic leaders have likened that to “unilateral disarmament” given how aggressively their political opponents have redrawn maps in Republican-controlled states and with Democrats holding a slight majority in U.S. House of Representatives heading into next year’s midterm elections.
“This is petty and it’s wrong and we as Marylanders, we always lead by example,” said Del. Sid Saab, an Anne Arundel County Republican. “This is our chance to lead by example. Frankly, I don’t care what other states do.”