Above: Rep. John Delaney, Del. Aisha Braveboy and Dan Vicuna of Common Cause
By Len Lazarick
The Maryland congressman who probably benefited most from the state’s partisan gerrymandering in 2012 has also become one of the strongest advocates for reform.
“I think this issue has real potential for a state and national movement,” U.S. Rep. John Delaney told a forum on redistricting reform Monday night. “It’s about entrenched interests versus the interests of the people.”
Delaney’s 6th Congressional District, which stretches from Potomac to far western Maryland, was redrawn in 2012 to make it easier for a Democrat to win. A wealthy bank CEO, Delaney defeated 10-term Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett that year, and narrowly held on to the seat last week in the closest race for Congress in Maryland, winning by just 2,200 votes and a shade less than 50%.
“My district is a distinctly purple district,” Delaney said. “It forces me to speak to my entire constituency.”
The forum at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy in College Park was sponsored by Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the Annapolis chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women. The groups have been pushing for reform of the congressional redistricting process in Maryland under the slogan “Tame the Gerrymander.”
For Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, the effort in Maryland, classified as one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation, is part of a national push to reform the system that helps produce the partisan polarization in Congress.
Hogan election seen as hopeful sign
The election of Republican Larry Hogan as governor last week also has buoyed hopes that the new governor will support reform of a system that has left the GOP with only one of Maryland’s eight congressional seats.
Maryland’s redistricting process for both congressional and state legislative districts is controlled by the governor and Democratic legislative leaders.
Del. Aisha Braveboy, a forum panelist, noted that even a bill to simply study redistricting reform in Maryland died in a House of Delegates committee. Braveboy, a Prince George’s County Democrat who ran for attorney general and will not be returning to the legislature, is hopeful that Gov. Hogan will use his powers of executive order to establish a commission to study redistricting reform.
Braveboy sees “more sanity coming to the redistricting process.”
“We’ve lost our way and we have to get back to representing the people’s business,” Braveboy said.
Delaney said, “To argue against this is a fundamentally indefensible position.” Plus, he added, “I think it’s pretty good politics.”
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause in Maryland, said Hogan’s staff had expressed interest in the topic.
Delaney wants open primaries
Delaney is sponsoring his own “Open Our Democracy Act” to reshape congressional elections at the national level.
The bill would make Election Day a national holiday to encourage voting, establish national standards for drawing district lines and — in what he admits is its “most controversial” provision — would make all primaries open primaries, with candidates from all parties vying in the same primary for all voters.
The top two vote getters would then run against each other in the general election.
California has switched to this system, and Delaney said it has made “the California legislature more constructive” and increased turnout.
“There is zero cost to experiment,” Delaney said. “The system we have now is so bad.”
But Tanzi Strafford, a Gaithersburg resident who is a member of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee and attended the forum, said a study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that the reforms there did not produce more turnout and did not produce candidates who were more moderate and less partisan.
In an August blog posting, Stafford said, “Delaney seeks to transform election process for the U.S. House of Representative to extend a tyranny of Democrats from Maryland to nationwide.”
In her blog, Strafford said, “In an open primary in Maryland, the most likely scenario is that the media will cover only Democratic candidates and completely ignore fine Republican candidates. Name recognition will drive votes to Democrats as the top two candidates in Maryland.