These were my remarks as prepared for today’s hearing of the Maryland Redistricting Advisory Committee hearing at Salisbury University.
My name is Michael Swartz and I am a citizen of Maryland by choice, having moved here in 2004.
Because of my tardy timing in realizing this can be a great place to live, I missed out on the last redistricting battle ten years ago. All I know is that the whole affair ended up in court because the original plan was far too egregious for even political partisans to be able to defend, so it was changed around the edges to the map we have now. It’s a map which, sadly, divides a number of counties like a vast jigsaw puzzle, placing neighbors who might have a lot in common into different political districts because some Annapolis or Washington politician looked at voter registration data and wanted a seat which was safe for their re-election prospects until he or she wished to retire.
And from many accounts, it seems to me that the goal of redistricting in Maryland is once again not to empower the people or bring about a truly representative small-r republican state, but to reward certain politicians and punish those who don’t toe a particular party line.
I’m here to speak about both Congressional and state legislative redistricting, so I’m asking for your indulgence here. My goal is to maintain my testimony to the five-minute limit prescribed by the rules; ideally I’ll come in a little bit shorter but no less forthright.
A few weeks ago, Maryland Republicans put out their version of a Congressional redistricting map. It appealed to me not because of the prospect of placing several Democrats currently serving in Congress together in a single district; in principle a few minor tweaks could eliminate that issue.
Instead, the beauty of this map is that it leaves most counties within one Congressional district. No longer is Anne Arundel County divided among four different Congressmen without a resident representative among them, nor is there the prospect of again having some of what are considered the most gerrymandered Congressional districts in the country to place Maryland into a sort of political hall of shame. No, on the Republican map neighbors are left with neighbors and districts were drawn in a manner which makes relative geographical sense.
Unfortunately, what we will likely get is a package which reflects the Democrats’ goal of electing a Congressional delegation where all members come from their party, achieved by splitting Republican strongholds up as much as possible. Liberal Democrats have dreamed up maps which place Eastern Shore watermen in the same district as the toughest minority neighborhoods in urban Baltimore city and coal miners living along the West Virginia border with District of Columbia suburbanites, all in the name of something called the 10-0 Project. Needless to say, if you place these combinations together I don’t see a cohesive set of interests there.
While I’m certain the Republican plan won’t get a lot of traction from a group selected by a governor trying to work his way up in prominence among national Democrats for a future political run, let’s at least strive to be a little more sensitive to the interests of not breaking up counties and neighborhoods into multiple Congressional districts.
Now I’ll speak on the state level.
It so happens that I serve locally on the Republican Central Committee, and as such I was elected based on a vote by every Republican in Wicomico County. However, I realize that the old method of having State Senators elected from each county regardless of population went away a few decades back, to be replaced with the population-based system we have now.
Yet when I moved here there was one piece of the political puzzle which made no sense whatsoever to me – I have two different representatives in the House of Delegates from one district. Upon further investigation, I was flabbergasted to find that others in my same region have just one Delegate they could call their own while still others across the state had three different Delegates – in most cases, these areas elected all three from one political party while those areas where the minority party tended to hold sway had their districts broken up into two or three subdistricts. I was used to the system in my native state of Ohio where each of their 33 State Senate districts are broken down into thirds to create 99 separate House districts.
While the numbers are different, that is the system Maryland should strive to emulate – each Senate district should be broken up into three different House districts. That way rural counties would have more of an opportunity to get a resident Delegate, something which several counties on the Eastern Shore have lacked from time to time because of the current system.
Moreover, those who create the district maps should begin at the county level and attempt to minimize division. Here in Wicomico County we are a poster child for that phenomenon – while we potentially could elect six Delegates and two State Senators from our county, it’s just as likely we could have none. Imagine a county of nearly 100,000 people without a voice in the state legislature! While I’m aware that parts of our large county would have to be shaved off to maintain an equal population balance among districts, this county could easily at least have one House of Delegates district formed entirely within its borders.
I want to thank the Redistricting Advisory Committee for holding this hearing. Unfortunately, there are many of us who sincerely feel that the die has already been cast and the state is just going through the motions of having hearings so they can say they heard the public when another partisan map that tears apart communities in the name of political power is revealed.
Hopefully you’ll all surprise me and put out something which makes sense geographically and enrages political insiders from both parties because they’ll have to work for re-election instead of believing they’ll be a Delegate or Senator for life.
Once again, I thank you and hope you’ll take my constructive criticism into account when the decisions are made.
Update: I’ll have a report on the proceedings for Monday, as tomorrow I have a 9/11 piece that will be up most of the day.