Former Delegate Jim King put on a suit and tie for the redistricting hearings in Annapolis and Columbia Tuesday. But earlier in the day, the lone Republican on the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee was in jeans, throwing out $25,000 worth of food from his two restaurants, Rockfish in Annapolis and Kaufman’s Tavern in Gambrills.
Both eateries had been without power for three days after Hurricane Irene came through, and King bemoaned the loss of business and spoiled food at one of the busiest times of the year. He said he would have preferred the shut-down in a slow season like February.
But even with the lights out, political life goes on. The Anne Arundel hearing on redistricting was at first canceled at the community college, which had lost power, and then rescheduled the same day for the Legislative Services Building near the State House. The switch caused complaints, but still about 50 people showed up there and at a similar hearing that evening in Columbia. More came to observe than to testify, and both hearings lasted less than an hour.
In both venues, more Republicans than Democrats chose to testify, perhaps because they recognized that redistricting in Maryland has tended to hurt Republicans and favor Democrats.
The five-member advisory committee appointed by O’Malley is chaired by his patronage chief Jeanne Hitchcock and includes Senate President Mike Miller, House Speaker Mike Busch, and Richard Stewart, a businessman who chaired the governor’s reelection campaign in Prince George’s County. All are Democrats except for King.
They are supposed to recommend a congressional redistricting map in September and a legislative redistricting map in December. There will be a special session of the General Assembly in October to enact the congressional map.
The Annapolis hearing kicked off with a harangue from Brian Griffiths, president of the Maryland Young Republicans, who complained about the hearing’s timing and called the current congressional district maps “disgraceful.”
“Unfortunately, neither I nor a majority of the people of Maryland have any confidence in this commission or this governor to do the right thing,” Griffiths concluded.
Despite Griffiths’ belligerent tone, other witnesses echoed his complaint about the gerrymandering of Anne Arundel County into four oddly shaped congressional districts. Several said they wanted the entire county in one district, giving it the chance for a resident congressman as it had for decades.
The current representatives of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts “are pulled in so many different directions,” said Del. Cathy Vitale, a Severna Park Republican.
In Columbia, Republican Sen. Allan Kittleman said if Democrats were urging that the 6th Congressional District be made “more competitive” for their party, than the committee should make all the congressional districts more competitive.
There were other more parochial concerns, principally keeping communities together. Overall, the witnesses simply asked the advisory committee to follow the requirements in the state constitution: “Each legislative district shall consist of adjoining territory, be compact in form and of substantially equal population. Due regard shall be given to natural boundaries and boundaries of political subdivisions.”
Failure to follow those rules caused the state Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, to redraw legislative districts in 2002. But the same rules don’t apply to congressional districts, and federal courts generally don’t overturn districting plans unless their populations are not equal.
The League of Women Voters was unhappy with the redistricting process itself. LWV representatives testified in both Annapolis and Columbia that they would rather have a bi-partisan commission with no elected officials set district lines. The League also would have preferred the hearings happen after the committee has drawn new maps, so the public would have something to react to.
As it stands now, it appears the public will get to testify on the maps only after the governor has submitted them to the legislature. The committee still has four more hearings in September, since Saturday’s two hearings in Harford and Baltimore counties were canceled due to the hurricane and need to be rescheduled.