By Daniel Menefee
Gov. Martin O’Malley’s state redistricting map will become law on Friday without a single hearing, and Marylanders have been denied a say, the state Republican Party and Fannie Lou Hamer, an African-American political action group, charged on Wednesday.
The unlikely allies had teamed up to unsuccessfully challenge O’Malley’s congressional redistricting plan in federal court, and they plan to swiftly challenge the legislative map in the Maryland Court of Appeals on federal and state constitutional grounds
The Maryland Constitution says the redistricting plan automatically takes effect if the legislature takes no action on it by the 45th day of the session, this Friday.
“The governor and his allies are attempting to pass one of the most important pieces of legislation in the last ten years without so much as a holding a single hearing on any of the proposed alternative maps,” said Alex Mooney, chairman of Maryland GOP, in a press release on Wednesday. “While the governor and the legislature may have legitimate fundamental differences as to how the map should be drawn, that is no excuse to deny the people of Maryland an opportunity to be heard.”
House Speaker Michael Busch has justified the inaction by pointing to the lack of competing redistricting plans in the Senate, which would also have to approve any changes in the governors plan. With a few exceptions, senators are generally more satisfied with the new district lines, including most Republicans.
Map favors Democrats in power, GOP chair charges
“Under the governor’s map, Democrats arbitrarily use three-member, two-member, and single-member districts, to draw a political landscape that is favorable to those Democrats in power,” Mooney said. He said the bi-partisan alternative draws single-member districts to keep elected officials more connected to their constituents.
Fannie Lou Hamer spokesman Radamase Cabrera said Wednesday that the redistricting law will be challenged in the Maryland Court of Appeals on the basis that the map violates section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and Article III, Section 4 of the Constitution of Maryland.”
Cabrera believes Chief Judge Robert Bell will rule similarly to a 2002 decision, in which Bell struck down a map drawn by then Gov. Parris Glendening because it was “not consistent with the requirements of Article III, Section 4 of the Constitution of Maryland,” which says legislative districts must be compact and account for “boundaries of political subdivisions.”
“O’Malley’s map violates the Bell decision with regard to political jurisdictions,” Cabrera said. “We see no reason at all for Prince George’s County to go into Charles and Calvert County in the 27th District, and we see no reason for Anne Arundel and Prince George’s to be in the 21st District.”
Cabrera said it was “expected” that the legislature would not hold hearings about possible alternatives.
“We are not surprised that the General Assembly did not want to have a hearing on O’Malley’s proposal,” Cabrera said. “It is our intention to go to the Maryland Court of Appeals and challenge the redistricting law in Judge Bell’s court.”
Fannie Lou Hamer PAC was established last year to challenge federal and state redistricting plans that reduce black representation in Prince George’s County and other parts of the state.
Democratic caucus doesn’t take up alternatives
Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery, said Wednesday that she was disappointed that a recent caucus of House Democrats failed to consider any alternatives to O’Malley’s redistricting plan. She was one of five Democrats who voted against the redistricting plan.
“I asked some questions in our Democratic caucus meeting to see if there was going to be any action, discussion, or hearings,” Gutierrez said. “Absolutely none, [the map] just goes quietly into law.”
She said the state had a chance to be “more responsive to the growth of minorities,” but instead the Governor drew a map that was more “protective of incumbencies and the status quo.”
Almost all the growth in Maryland was from minorities in the Asian, Latino, and African-American communities in areas like Montgomery County “where it became a minority-majority county for the first time,” Gutierrez said.
“The diversity throughout the state was just not even given consideration,” she said. “Incumbencies seem to be the number-one driver for the way the map was drawn.”
Legal action is probable for the issues facing Montgomery County, Gutierrez said, but she would probably not join the Fannie Lou Hamer and Maryland GOP court challenge because they have a statewide agenda.
She said her focus was on creating a single member district in Montgomery County with a majority Latino population at 51%.
“I’m only looking at a particular area of Montgomery County,” she said.
Black representation undermined, Braveboy says
Del. Aisha Braveboy, D-Prince George’s County, chair of the redistricting committee of the Legislative Black Caucus, said the map undermines black representation.
“It is most unfortunate that there were no hearings on any of the alternative proposals presented by members of the General Assembly, and that the concerns raised at the public hearing on the GRAC map were not adequately addressed in the governor’s final map,” said Braveboy. “By not holding hearings on the governor’s map, the legislature failed to act on legislation that is fundamental to the integrity of our democracy.”
Del. Tiffany Alston, another Prince George’s Democrat, said in December there should be 14 senatorial districts with majority black populations, instead of the 12 in the plan. She said then that the map offered by the Redistricting Advisory Committee did not give blacks proportional representation in the state.
She said Wednesday there was an “inadequacy in African-Americans’ ability to elect representatives of their choice” under the O’Malley redistricting plan.