Any hope Gov. Martin O’Malley would follow the lead of other progressive states and implement a fair, nonpartisan redrawing of congressional and state legislative boundaries vanished on the Fourth of July.
Instead of declaring his independence from the strictures and narrow-minded selfishness of partisan politics, O’Malley opted to continue the old, familiar Maryland Democratic game of dictating redistricting lines.
He named a five-member advisory commission that will make it appear as though O’Malley is giving this important matter a full public airing with ample opportunity for citizen input. In fact, the fix is in: Every decision made by this panel will be highly partisan and one-sided.
Bossism, with a modern twist, lives on in Maryland.
Boss O’Malley put his patronage secretary, Jeanne Hitchcock, on the commission to make sure the governor gets everything he wants. Her mission is to please her chief, not to give Republicans or independents a fair shake.
She is joined by two Democratic potentates, House Speaker Mike Busch and Senate President Mike Miller. They, too, couldn’t care less about creating a level political playing field. Their goal is to make survival a slam-dunk for incumbent Democrats while reducing the number of Republicans in the General Assembly and Maryland’s congressional delegation.
Bosses O’Malley, Busch and Miller will develop computer-driven redistricting maps so Democratic in nature they would be the envy of Boss Tweed and Eldridge Gerry (of gerrymandering fame).
It didn’t have to be that way. But the three Democratic bosses aren’t interested in reforms that might threaten the Democratic monopoly in Maryland, which now borders on near-permanent, lopsided one-party rule.
Miller, for instance, has often stated his desire to pummel the GOP into oblivion. Kick a minority party when it is down? Why not, the always partisan and colorful Southern Maryland Democrat believes.
Congressional redistricting for the 2012 elections must be handled first, in time for a special General Assembly session this fall. Then the commission’s work will shift to new boundary lines for state delegates and senators, who don’t face voters until 2014.
The bosses’ No. 1 objective is to doom Republican Rep. Andy Harris to one term in Congress. Harris’ 1st District crosses the Chesapeake Bay and takes in all of the Eastern Shore as well as parts of Republican Harford County, Republican northern Baltimore County and Democratic precincts in Anne Arundel County.
Census figures indicate Harris’s district must shrink by 21,000 people, and the most obvious place for the bosses to start their attack on Harris is in his own backyard Baltimore County.
What if the Democratic bosses remove Baltimore County entirely from the 1st District along with those portions of the district in Harford County?
What if, instead, they add to the district precincts along U.S. 50 heading west from the Bay Bridge all the way into liberal Prince George’s County? Suddenly, today’s conservative, Republican district would have a far more moderate and Democratic tilt.
Another option is to replace the 1st District’s Republican voters in Baltimore and Harford counties with western shore Democrats living in northern Anne Arundel County and southern parts of Baltimore city.
Harris’ road to a second term would be no sure thing.
Such changes require shifts in other districts. For instance, the 6th District of Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, Maryland’s second Republican in Congress, might be stretched across northern counties of the state from the West Virginia line to the Chesapeake Bay to pick up former pieces of the 1st District in Harford and Baltimore counties.
It also might mean eliminating some Bartlett precincts in Frederick and Howard counties, which could be divided up among several other congressional districts.
The second priority of the Democratic triumvirate will be preserving a majority African-American congressional seat in the Baltimore region, the 7th District, represented by Elijah Cummings.
This district must grow by 57,000 people because of Baltimore’s declining population. That will mean adding parts of Baltimore County where African Americans now predominate, more precincts in Howard County where liberal Democrats reside and possibly some precincts in Prince George’s County or even Montgomery County. The liberal composition of the 7th won’t change.
The next problem confronting the three bosses will be preserving safe seats for Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, whose 2nd District must grow by nearly 18,000 people, and Rep. Steny Hoyer, whose 5th District must shrink by 47,000.
Multiple solutions are available. Ruppersberger’s gerrymandered Baltimore-area district can be enlarged in a number of directions to ensure his re-election. Hoyer’s district can be tweaked and shrink-wrapped to guarantee that the state’s most powerful House Democrat can win easy victories over the next decade.
By the time state lawmakers approve new congressional maps during the week of Oct. 17, all the other realignment concerns of Democratic congressional incumbents will have been resolved. Tight, boss-like control of these decisions will guarantee it.
Barry Rascovar is a State House columnist and communications consultant. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.