By Len Lazarick
The House of Delegates on Wednesday approved Gov. Martin O’Malley’s congressional redistricting map exactly as he had proposed, despite fierce opposition by Republicans and some minority groups.
The vote was 91-46, with five minority Democratic delegates from the Washington suburbs joining all 41 Republicans voting against it. The bill needed 85 votes to pass as an emergency measure that will go into law as soon as the governor signs it, which may happen as soon as Thursday.
The Senate still has to concur Thursday morning on corrections to technical errors found Tuesday night in the bill, but swift enactment is expected.
The arguments were familiar from the last two days of debate, as the House voted down three successive GOP attempts to pass their own plans that would have created districts more favorable to minorities, including blacks, Hispanics and Republicans. The delegates also rejected an attempt by Democratic Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez of Montgomery County to give minorities more representation there.
House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell said the technical drafting errors found by close reading of the bill showed how “the rushed nature” of the legislation, which was not officially submitted by O’Malley until Saturday evening, “caused these mistakes.”
Democrats insisted that the bill was in full compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act in representing minorities based on advice they got from an expert consultant, Bruce Cain, a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
Republicans and the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, representing Prince George’s African Americans, have promised to file federal lawsuits if O’Malley’s plan was enacted.
Republican Del. Kathy Afzali said the redistricting plan was another example of “the war on rural Maryland” being waged by the O’Malley administration against farmers in her Frederick County district.
“Not only do you stick it to them every day,” Afzali said, “but you’re going to take away their voice to the national government.”
The O’Malley plan moves hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters in Montgomery County into the 6th Congressional District now held by 10-term Republican U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett. This may allow a Democrat to take a seventh seat in Maryland.
While the supporters of the plan kept noting that 70% of Marylanders remain in their current congressional districts, Del. Susan Krebs of Carroll County said, “100% of us have a new district.” Under O’Malley’s plan, the entire county is taken out of the 6th district, where it had been for decades. Some of Carroll goes into the 1st Congressional District with the Eastern Shore, now represented by Republican Andy Harris, and the rest goes into the 8th Congressional District, now represented by Rep. Chris Van Hollen.
After the House vote, Bartlett issued a statement saying the new map does a poor job of representing minorities and rural residents, Capital News Service reported. But he said the new map would not scare him into retirement.
“I filed for re-election in June and approval of this map hasn’t changed my plans to seek re-election to represent the residents of Maryland’s 6th District in the U.S. House of Representatives,” he said in the statement.