Is redistricting a done deal?

Well, perhaps, and that’s how my sentiments lean when it comes to the question of redistricting in Maryland.

But Saturday around 30 interested observers sat in the brand-new Perdue School of Business at Salisbury University to listen to eight observers testify before the three members of the Redistricting Advisory Committee who could be present – while Chair Jeannie Hitchcock, President of the Maryland Senate Mike Miller, and board member Richard Stewart were there, board members James King and Speaker of the House of Delegates Michael Busch were unable to attend. The size of the room made the crowd look smaller, too. While Hitchcock said the group was “here to listen, primarily” I noticed some of the members seemed a bit disinterested at times.

Out of eight speakers, five of them represented Democratic interests while the other three (including myself) were Republicans. However, there was one piece of common ground expressed by both sides, that being the issue of resident Delegates. As you’ll read, though, the ideas on how to achieve this were somewhat different.

As it turned out, I had the luck of the draw of signing up first so I led off the hearing. That was good because it gave me the opportunity to listen to what the others had to say.

The speaker after me – I believe his name was Charles Herbert, from Worcester County – spent a good deal of his time preaching about the First District’s “history of electing moderates” and claimed that the composition of the district should be equalized between Democrats and Republicans.

But the numbers already show the First Congressional District is about as equal as it can be: there are 196,183 registered Democrats in the First District to 196,411 registered Republicans. It’s hard to imagine anymore of a balanced swing district than that. What Herbert and the Democrats want to do is take away Andy Harris’s base in Baltimore and Harford counties (which lean Republican) and add areas of Anne Arundel County which tend to lean Democrat, perhaps reestablishing the four point Democratic registration edge in force a decade ago. The corollary effect of that would be to make Harris change his residency to a place he already owns on the Eastern Shore so they can call him a “carpetbagger” and “opportunist.” No, it’s not really about balance – nice try, though.

And while Herbert established the Democrats’ support of resident Delegates, his idea was to have a three-person district here in District 38 while decreeing each county should have a representative. (A similar situation exists in District 36 on the upper Shore.) While Republicans have been successful in such a situation, I think this is a bid to dilute their power and eliminate the precedent of single-member districts.

Dr. Harry Basehart, a member of the Wicomico County Democratic Central Committee, spoke next. He echoed Herbert’s call for “a better balance between Republican and Democratic voters” in the First District (something which already exists, as I show above.) He said as well the success of Frank Kratovil in 2008 was due to three short-term factors:

  • An intraparty struggle between Republicans (mainly Gilchrest vs. Harris)
  • The election of a ‘moderate’ Democrat in the primary (Frank Kratovil)
  • The effect of Barack Obama on turnout

Since those weren’t present in 2010 Andy Harris won. Think they’re bitter?

On the state legislative level Basehart noted that “due regard should be given to boundaries of political subdivisions” yet also asserted that the minority-dominated District 37A “must be maintained.” Certainly that district’s current bowtie shape (clearly shown in yellow on the handout we received) doesn’t pay heed to geographic boundaries.

After former Orphans’ Court candidate Peter Evans briefly echoed Basehart’s sentiments, Carole Voss of the Worcester County Republican Central Committee mentioned that the GOP Congressional map formed three majority-minority districts. The Fourth District and Seventh District were primarily African-American, while the Fifth District would be a “coalition” district of African-American and Latino voters. It was better than the “highly partisan” 2002 effort, she argued.

The next three to speak were all state elected officials: Delegates Charles Otto and Norm Conway, and Senator Jim Mathias.

Otto stressed the need for resident Delegates, since Somerset County hasn’t always had one. And after noting “party consideration shouldn’t be a factor” he also asked for “transportation-friendly” districts which were relatively compact.

Conway also pleaded with the Commission to make sure each county has at least one House member. But he opined that the First Congressional District may be a better fit with the rural portions of southern Maryland as it has been from time to time, most recently in the 1980s. That assertion seems to ignore that large swaths of Baltimore and Harford counties are rural while counties in southern Maryland are becoming bedroom communities for Washington, D.C. And of course, Andy Harris lives in Baltimore County.

Jim Mathias didn’t necessarily repeat the Democratic Party line, which was refreshing. Instead, he called on the Commission to “keep philosophies and needs intact.” And apparently he’s not worried about his political prospects since he quipped “just let me know where the district is and I’ll go to work.”

As it turned out, Mathias closed the brief, half-hour hearing. It was so quick that latecomer Delegate Addie Eckardt didn’t get a chance to speak.

So it’s pretty apparent where the battle lines are drawn and what the top item on the Democratic wish list is – to make the political life of Andy Harris as miserable as possible. On a more local level I’m glad both parties agree on the importance of counties having resident members of the House of Delegates, but I can envision a Democratic plan for the Lower Shore which would grant that wish but place the two Republicans in the House in the same single-member district while carving out a possible seat for a certain County Executive who just might want a new job in 2014.

I don’t put anything past that bunch in Annapolis, and I’m sure the lines have already been drawn.

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.

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