Photo above: Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford points to map of 3rd Congressional District held by Carol Ann Hecht of the National Council of Jewish Women Annapolis Section.
By Len Lazarick
The cake and ice cream in Lawyer’s Mall at the State House Thursday was for Elbridge Gerry again. But the long-dead statesman, signer of the Declaration of Independence and 6th vice president of the United States was not being honored for his distinguished career, but for a minor political act that has outlived him.
As governor of Massachusetts, he gave his name to the gerrymander, the drawing of legislative districts for partisan political gain.
Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford came out not just to get a piece of chocolate cake, but to lend the Hogan administration support for the Tame the Gerrymander effort in Maryland. It is being led by Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the Annapolis chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women.
“It’s terrible, it’s undemocratic,” said Rutherford, pointing to his Columbia home in the 3rd Congressional District, deemed the second most gerrymandered district in the county — running from Towson to Olney and Silver Spring and over to Annapolis.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Rutherford said.
Gov. Larry Hogan promised in his State of the State address in January to “execute an executive order that creates a bipartisan commission to examine Maryland’s redistricting process with the goal of fully reforming this process and giving this authority to an independent, bipartisan commission.”
Hogan has yet to fulfill that promise, and has not prominently mentioned the topic again.
Asked about the promise of the commission, Rutherford said, “that will be coming” but did not say when.
“Gov. Hogan has an historic opportunity,” said former Montgomery County Councilmember Phil Andrews, a longtime advocate for redistricting reform. “This is truly a bipartisan problem and we need a bipartisan solution.”
He pointed out that Gerry’s map — depicted as a salamander in a cartoon of the day — is actually “less disjointed and more compact than the maps we see today.” That includes the 3rd Congressional District, which is “the worst of the worst,” Andrews said.
The advocates this year are encouraged by the recent Supreme Court decision upholding Arizona’s redistricting by an independent commission.
The Tame the Gerrymander coalition has tried to throw a little humor into a topic that is not at the top of most voters’ concerns.
Ralph Watkins of the League of Women Voters of Maryland acted out the recipe for Gerrymander Cake.
Among other things it includes “five firmly packed cups” of Democrats or Republicans, packing the term for putting as many of one party into a district as possible, such as having a quarter of the Maryland’s Republicans in the 1st Congressional District. There was also a quarter teaspoon of ambition — “experience shows a little goes a long way” — and the cake should be baked in a closed room and not exposed to sunlight.
Here’s a video of the Tame The Gerrymander event:
Absolutely and without a doubt, Maryland’s congressional district lines look horrible and were drawn in such a way as to elect a maximum number of Democrats to the House of Representatives from this state. But the same can be said of North Carolina’s congressional district lines, which were drawn by Republicans so as to maximum their elected numbers from that state in the House. Judging by what’s happening in the Congress these days, it obviously MATTERS very much how many members of each political party are elected to that body as a whole. Maryland Democrats would be beyond stupid to hand over the redistricting process here to an “independent” commission while Republicans in North Carolina (one of several states where that party controls the redistricting process) are not required to do the same thing at the same time. That requirement can only be made by a federal constitutional amendment. All the recent Supreme Court decision said was that it was okay for states to redistrict via the “independent” commission if they wanted to do so (as Arizona and California had already done via petition and referendum). That decision did NOT say such a process was required. I urge the purists who are currently urging Maryland Democrats to shoot themselves in the foot to instead push for a federal constitutional amendment that would reform the process for every state at the same time.
How well are the residents of Montgomery County represented in Congress when we are split into three parts that go from West Virginia to The Chesapeake? How can anyone look at District 3 and say with a straight face that the residents of that district are getting good representation? Shifting one or two Congressional seats in Maryland to the Republican side is not likely to tilt the balance of power in Congress, but compact districts would make it much easier for Maryland Members of Congress to represent the interests of their own constituents.
Tell it to the Democrats in North Carolina, where they were gerrymandered by the Republican powers that be there into three super-safe congressional districts so that Republicans could be elected from ten very safe GOP districts.
I’ve already admitted that Maryland’s district 3 looks horrible. Well, so does, in my opinion, North Carolina’s district 12. Whichever political party holds the redistricting power in any state will use it to maximize their own numbers until they are required to turn that power over to a so-called independent commission. But why should Maryland (or North Carolina) do it first? As I said before, the only fair way to go is to have it mandated to be done at the same time by a federal constitutional amendment.