By Len Lazarick
STORY UPDATED MONDAY NIGHT
The state Senate is set to vote today to approve Gov. Martin O’Malley’s congressional redistricting plan after rejecting a Republican alternative Monday night.
The governor’s plan puts almost a third of Marylanders into new congressional districts, and increases the number of Democratic voters in the 6th Congressional District so that a Democrat would have a better shot at unseating 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett. Democrats already hold six of the state’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“They’re just trying to get more Democrats in Washington,” said Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs.
The vote happened hours after the special Senate Committee on Reapportionment and Redistricting approved O’Malley’s plan with no changes and no debate on a straight party line vote Monday afternoon.
The 15-member committee met barely 15 minutes after they had heard three hours of testimony on the plan that the governor didn’t officially submit until Saturday evening. Ten Democrats voted for the plan, and all four Republicans opposed the plan.
“It’s a done deal,” said Jacobs, who suggested they not waste their time discussing it.
As they had done before, some African-Americans and Hispanic officials questioned the unusually shaped districts, including U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, Montgomery County Council President Valerie Ervin, and Montgomery County Council member Nancy Navarro. They suggested the map violated the federal Voting Rights Act, but could provide no specifics on how it did so.
But Jeanne Hitchcock, the O’Malley appointments secretary who chaired his advisory committee on redistricting, said legal experts has signed off on the governor’s plan and it did not conflict with the federal law designed to protect minorities.
But the plan was also supported by some of highest ranking African-Americans in Maryland, including Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker.
“I don’t think [the map] harms minority voters in any way,” Leggett said. “I believe strongly that minorities can be elected in districts when they are not a majority of the population.”
“It’s good for Baltimore and it assures good representation for all Baltimore’s communities,” Rawlings-Blake said. Four of Maryland’s eight U.S. representatives live in Baltimore and its northern suburbs.
Republican senators offered three redistricting plans of their own that created three majority minority districts in the Washington suburbs. The plans also would have helped elect two Republican members of Congress, if not three.
Senate President Mike Miller surprised reporters at a press conference Monday morning saying he expected preliminary approval of the plan by the full Senate this evening. He also said he had the 29 votes to pass the plan as an emergency bill.
Miller was a member of the five-member advisory committee that developed the plan.
Voting for the governor’s plan in committee were chairman James Robey, Howard; Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore City; James Ed DeGrange, Anne Arundel; Brian Frosh, Montgomery; Edward Kasemeyer, Howard-Baltimore County; Nathaniel McFadden, Baltimore City; Thomas Mac Middleton, Charles; and Victor Ramirez, Prince George’s County.