‘Bilateral disarmament’ proposed to reform congressional redistricting

O'Malley congressional redistricting map

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s congressional redistricting map

By Len Lazarick

Sen. Paul Pinsky, a leader of the left in the state Senate, freely concedes he’d like to see as many “liberals and progressives” elected to Congress as possible.

But the Prince George’s Democrat also acknowledges that Maryland congressional district lines he voted for in 2011 are among the least compact in the nation as well as unfair.  He’d like to reform the process in Maryland without the “unilateral disarmament” that would undermine getting Democrats elected to Congress while Republican-controlled legislatures in other states continued to gerrymander for partisan gain.

On Friday, Pinsky introduced legislation that provides for what might be called “bilateral disarmament” on redistricting, one of several bills this session on reapportionment and redistricting.

Sen. Paul Pinsky

Sen. Paul Pinsky

A Republican state would be paired with Maryland

Pinsky’s bill “is contingent on the enactment of a nonpartisan districting process by another state that has between six and ten seats in the United States House of Representatives and both houses of that state’s legislature are controlled by a party other than the party that controls the General Assembly of Maryland.”

Pinsky estimates that as many as six to 10 Republican-dominated states would qualify under that clause.

Pinsky’s bill, co-sponsored by two Republicans and three Democrats, also takes the governor and other elected officials out of the process by creating a five-member bipartisan commission that would draw the lines. The House speaker, Senate president and minority leaders in each chamber would appoint one member each and the fifth member would be selected by a majority of the other commissioners, so the final choice would be bipartisan.

Governor now controls proposal

The current redistricting process is entirely in the hands of the governor, who must submit a bill reflecting the Census taken every 10 years. In 2011, Gov. Martin O’Malley created a five-member “advisory committee” – not covered by the Open Meetings Act – that was chaired by his appointments secretary, and included House Speaker Michael Busch, Senate President Mike Miller, a Democrat (later convicted of federal tax evasion), and a former Republican delegate who was not selected by members of his party.

Under Pinsky’s bill, none of the appointees to the new commission he’s proposing may hold elective or appointive office in the federal, state or local governments.

Pinsky notes that California created a nonpartisan process that still wound up maintaining its Democratic majority in the U.S. House, despite putting incumbents of both parties in the same districts.

Pinsky points to a Jan. 4 column by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post that showed Democratic congressional candidates nationwide had nearly 1.4 million more votes than congressional Republicans, but still could not regain control of the House of Representatives due to gerrymandering.

Sen. Delores Kelley

Sen. Delores Kelley

Other bills create redistricting task force

Two other bills introduced this session would not go as far as Pinsky’s by calling for a task force to study the issue.

Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, introduced legislation to create a 16-member task force to study both congressional and legislative redistricting. The task force would include senators, delegates, representatives of both parties, the League of Women Voters, ACLU and civil rights groups. Kelley’s bill has six Democratic co-sponsors and three Republicans.

Kelley was one of two Democratic senators who filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against last year’s legislative redistricting.

Del. Susan McComas, R-Harford, introduced a nearly identical bill for a 13-member study commission on Wednesday, with 25 Republican co-sponsors and three Democrats.

About The Author

Len Lazarick


Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. abby_adams

    How generous of State Senator Pinsky to acknowledge the unfairness of gerrymandering to ALL voters. That he cites the fair & balanced reporting by the stellar journalist Dana Milbank as his source for this epiphany is ludicrious. Maryland’s redistricting was created by O’Malley & the Dems to disenfranchise voters who are questioning the dictates of the power brokers in Annapolis. Fairness? Hardly. Manipulation? You betcha! These same power brokers have approved the raiding of several trust fund and delivered more than 20 increases in taxes, tolls & fees to “balance the budget” while increasing the budget, session after session. Until a greater number of sheeple voters arise from their slumber and protest, these benevolent legislators will continue to tax & spend with little accountability to those of us who pay the bills.

  2. snowmaggedoned

    Wow….this has to be a first!! Democrats willing to throw a cracker to the Republicans in Maryland if only he can extort another state to give up some of its redistricting and allow more Democrats to be elected from other states to cover his “potential” losses from the “not-so-Free-State”. This is to make him feel like he is being benevolent. What a joke of an elected official!!!!

  3. KatieSilverSpring

    How curious that fair-and-balanced Dana Milbank thinks it is gerrymandering that prevents Democrats from winning the House. He should visit Maryland.

    Now, if Pinsky will only “let” us have fair districts in Maryland if another state does as well, he should move somewhere else. It is the voters of Maryland and those alone who determine who represents us in Maryland, regardless of whether Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, the District, whatever, does the same. So, if the powers-in-Maryland-that-be would simply draw lines that are fair and equitable to the populace, not just to the Progressive Party in Maryland, sometimes calling itself the Democrat Party, and let us vote for people who represent us as individuals, not as a part of a “proportional representation” planned redistricting, you would really see who is blue, who is red, who is simply wanting to be represented. And you would also see who really is the rightfully elected Governor, Senator, Congressional Representative and members of our General Assembly.

    Leave us alone. Give us back our government. Don’t block our right to petition to referendum when you have imposed yourself on us. Stop trying to modify our behavior through government. One man, one vote, always.