• Jim Snider

    The politics of one-member districts in 1967-8 were in some respects remarkably similar to the politics today, even though in other respects they might appear completely opposite. Baltimore City politicians liked multi-member districts because they knew if single member districts were created many of them would have to compete with other incumbents, which they strongly opposed. This, of course, is also a major reason state legislators hated independent redistricting: it meant they could be placed in the same district with other incumbents. Both were recommendations of the 1967-8 convention that were on the ballot for popular ratification in 1968.

    Now here is the really interesting political point: Did the politicians publicly acknowledge why they hated the proposals of the state constitutional convention, which included both single member districts and independent redistricting? No, they chose a completely different type of argument to defeat the constitution proposed by the convention. They drove around Baltimore City’s blue collar white neighborhoods with loud speakers saying that voting for the convention’s recommendations would hurt the interests of the white community. Remember that 1968 was a time of urban unrest throughout America and that liberals were perceived to have dominated the convention. It was also an era when a very large fraction of Maryland’s population still lived in Baltimore City.

    Today, the real reasons Baltimore City politicians oppose single member districts and independent redistricting are very similar to what they were in 1968. But the race baiting has flipped, including the claimed racial politics of the 1967-8 convention, which is a remarkable turnaround. Reflect, for a moment, on the statement at the end of this article, which is a highly accurate statement of current public arguments being made by Baltimore City reps against one member legislative districts and independent legislative redistricting: “Minority members of the current reform commission observed the lack of diversity in the 90 people who testified at five hearings, mostly white and over 55. They certainly wouldn’t have been impressed with the composition of the 1967 Constitutional Convention, which was almost entirely older white men….” Wow! Some things never change–even when they appear to be completely flipped.