Black group charges racial gerrymandering in new congressional districts and may file suit

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By Glynis Kazanjian
Glynis@MarylandReporter.com

Rep. Steny Hoyer and other congressmen at Capitol. (File photo)

Rep. Steny Hoyer and other congressmen at Capitol. (File photo)

A newly formed African-American political action group said it would file a federal lawsuit against the state of Maryland charging racial gerrymandering if the legislature enacts and Gov. Martin O’Malley signs the congressional redistricting map proposed this week by the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee.

“If the plan now being proposed by the governor’s redistricting commission passes, we are going to go into federal court and file a lawsuit charging the state of Maryland with violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” said Radamase Cabrera, spokesman for the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee (FLH-PAC).

Based in Prince George’s County, the Hamer PAC said the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund could be a potential partner in the lawsuit.

African-American population grew

Because of the growth of the African-American population in the state since the 2000 census, the Hamer PAC had asked the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee to create a third African American congressional district. The PAC asserts that African American voters are being gerrymandered into reconfigured congressional districts for the sole purpose of protecting white, Democratic incumbent lawmakers.

“We hope the governor and the House and Senate leadership during the special session will consider what they’re doing and not pass a plan that racially gerrymanders,” Cabrera said. “Otherwise, … we’ll seek an injunction to stop the April primaries and force these lines to be redrawn under the guidance of the federal courts.”

Every 10 years, federal law requires states to redraw their political legislative district lines based on the new Census data. In 2002, Gov. Parris Glendening, (D), and the Democrat-controlled legislature were widely criticized for gerrymandering attempts, producing several lawsuits. O’Malley is planning to call a special legislative session Oct. 17 to enact congressional redistricting maps in time for the Jan. 11 filing deadline for the April 3 primary.

Black group working with GOP

Cabrera said FLH-PAC is also working with the state Republican Party to redraw the 5th Congressional District to make it the third African American majority district they want.

“Fannie Lou Hamer is in negotiations with the state Republican party,” Cabrera said. “We will work with them and the Tea Party if it means protecting individual liberties.”

Del. Justin Ready, the state Republican Party interim executive director, said there a number of problems with the proposed redistricting.

“This map clearly goes from having two or three gerrymandered districts to having all eight gerrymandered,” Ready said. “It does not respect traditional regional boundaries, and we feel it continues to leave minorities underrepresented as well. The Maryland Republican Party is committed to working toward a fair congressional map.”

The GOP had proposed its own plan in August which included three majority minority districts.

Black Caucus hopes to change plan

The Maryland Legislative Black Caucus may also not be far from legal action. Del. Aisha Braveboy, D-Prince George’s, who chairs the Black Caucus Redistricting Committee, said she hopes the caucus can work out areas of disagreement with the proposed plans to avoid litigation.

Specifically, Braveboy said the black voting population in the proposed redistricting plan decreases in three congressional districts, the 4th, 5th and 7th, which she says is counter to the goals of the Black Caucus. She also said the 4th Congressional District is redrawn in a way that invites a legal challenge.

“We hope we can work out something with the administration before the special session, so that we are not a party to litigation, but that’s still a work in progress, so we’ll have to wait and see,” Braveboy said.

Cabrera said frustrations from the African American community stem from redistricting efforts in 2002. “We should have filed suit back then,” he said.

Black Democrats tension with white power structure

Sen. Joseph Getty, R-Carroll, said there is a traditional struggle in the Maryland General Assembly with regard to African Americans and the Democratic Party’s tendencies to favor white candidates.

“The FLH–PAC comes out of the redistricting control in Prince George’s County 10 years ago when the county’s minority population was 75 percent, but they only had 50 percent represented in their [legislative] district,” Getty said. “Prince George’s has increased to 85 percent minority. We haven’t seen a [state] Senate map yet, but FLH – PAC’s position is if Prince George’s County has eight Senate seats, six should be African American. That puts [4] senators in a position of being placed in a district where they would have to compete against each other in order to create minority districts.”

“One way to look at redistricting in this cycle is it’s a Democrat versus Republican battle, but there is probably a larger tension or a more hostile battle within the Democratic Party between African-Americans and the white power structure,” Getty said.

Carbera said FHL– PAC is also disappointed with Attorney General Douglas Gansler, who he said is supposed to be in charge of making sure the state follows federal redistricting laws.

“Governor Martin O’Malley and Doug Gansler’s behavior is disgraceful,” Cabrera said. “They are clearly diluting the black vote.”

O’Malley is accepting comments on the proposed plan until next Tuesday and will submit his final version of the congressional redistricting map to the General Assembly by October 17.