Blair Lee: Gerrymanderland -- Gazette.Net


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Welcome to ďGerrymandering 101Ē — how to manipulate the redistricting process for partisan fun and profit.

Ground rules

First, be mindful that every 10 years there are not one, but two, separate statewide redistrictings.

Redrawing Marylandís eight congressional districts to comply with decennial population shifts took place now in a legislative special session because the next congressional election is almost upon us (April) and canít be conducted unless the new district boundaries are quickly known.

On the other hand, redistricting Marylandís 188 state legislative seats can wait until Januaryís regular session because the next state legislative elections arenít until 2014.

Meanwhile, all of Marylandís local governments and school boards must reapportion their election districts, but thatís not part of this syllabus.

Marylandís Constitution gives the governor extraordinary redistricting powers — he draws both the new congressional map and the new state legislative map. But the standards for each map differ, as do the mechanics of legislative approval.

In redistricting Marylandís state lawmakers, the governor must respect the state Constitutionís requirement that the new districts be compact and respect natural and civil boundaries (rivers, county lines, etc). Gov. Parris Glendeningís 1992 map so flagrantly flaunted these standards that it was struck down by Marylandís highest court.

No such standards apply to congressional districts, which need only be proportional and in compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Another difference is that the governorís congressional map requires two-thirds legislative approval (because itís an emergency bill) while his state legislative map automatically goes into effect if the assembly doesnít pass an alternative map within 45 days of presentation by the governor.

OK, thatís how statewide redistricting works on paper. Here is how it works in reality.

In order of importance, here are congressional gerrymanderingís seven steps:

Step 1:

The mapís first and, by far, most important purpose is to protect the six incumbent Democrats. It doesnít matter that the new districts are laughably contorted, hopelessly inconvenient, largely disrespectful of communities and politically unfair.

The map is drawn with the sole purpose of predetermining every congressional electionís outcome for the next decade by arranging the right voters in the right places.

The new congressional lines were negotiated behind closed doors between the governor and the six incumbent Democrats subject to the following hierarchy: first, Steny Hoyer got the voters he wanted, next the Baltimore region got the boundaries it wanted and, then, the suburban D.C. congresspersons were consulted.

Step 2:

If there are enough Democratic voters left over after the Democrat incumbents are protected, try gerrymandering them into one of the two Republicanís districts in order to knock off one of the GOP incumbents.

Shifting 300,000 Montgomery voters into Roscoe Bartlettís western Maryland district so that it goes from 38 percent Democratic to 52 percent Democratic and from 10 percent minority to 23 percent minority should do the trick. That will result in a state that is 40 percent Republican having 12.5 percent Republican representation in Congress.

Step 3:

Quietly check with Marylandís Democratic attorney general and with the Democratic Obama administration to make sure the new lines comply with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Itís important to know ahead of time that the new map will survive a lawsuit.

Step 4:

OK, now that the map is finalized, create a phony commission of four Democratic hacks and a lone Republican to hold public hearings pretending that public input matters. Once this charade is over, pull out the governorís map and approve it 4-1.

Step 5:

As the hideous new map goes public, lie your ass off. Claim itís ďfair and balanced,Ē and that itís not really a political hatchet job. When Common Cause, the NAACP and the League of Women Voters voice objections, change the subject by announcing a new 15 cents-per-gallon gas tax.

Step 6:

When the congressional map goes to the state legislature, remind each legislator that the governor will be determining their political fate in January when he draws the legislatureís new redistricting map.

Likewise, when blacks complain that black voting power is, once again, being sacrificed for Democratic Party gains, get black Democratic leaders to testify against creating a new minority congressional district.

True, racial minorities account for every bit of Marylandís 9 percent population increase over the past decade and, true, under the new map Montgomery County, now 51 percent minority, will be represented in Congress for the next decade by three white guys. But Marylandís black Democrats proudly respond, ďParty trumps race.Ē

Step 7:

Pray to God that the Republicans are too stupid to make redistricting reform a ďgood governmentĒ campaign issue in 2014, and pray that Marylandís 3.1 million voters remain fast asleep.

For most Marylanders, the congressional redistricting debate is background noise, they couldnít care less. But if you want to see jammed auditoriums full of inflamed protesters, try changing the boundaries of your local school district.

Blair Lee is CEO of the Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in The Gazette. His email address is blair@leedg.com.