By Len Lazarick
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley now says he supports “non-partisan redistricting commissions not only for drawing Congressional districts every ten years, but for state legislative districts as well,” even while admitting he engaged in partisan gerrymandering as a Democratic governor.
“We must, on a state by state basis, push for an end to gerrymandered Congressional districts,” he told an audience Tuesday at the Boston College law school, where he is a distinguished visiting professor.
O’Malley’s remarks were first reported in the BC student newspaper The Heights. The ex-governor sent out a full transcript of his remarks Friday morning.
To illustrate his criticism of partisan gerrymandering, O’Malley did not use a map of the Maryland congressional districts he drew — considered by outside experts some of the most gerrymandered in the country — but maps of North Carolina.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is again proposing creation of an independent commission to draw congressional and legislative districts in HB385 and SB252. The bills are amended versions of the same proposals that died in House and Senate committees last year without a vote.
Democrats oppose ‘unilateral disarmament’
Democrats have opposed taking away redistricting power from the governor and legislature because it would be “unilateral disarmament” in the face of Republican gerrymandering in many other states. O’Malley acknowledges as much:
“As a governor, I held that redistricting pen in my own Democratic hand. I was convinced that we should use our political power to pass a map that was more favorable for the election of Democratic candidates. That in this hyper-partisan era, we should not ‘disarm unilaterally.’
“That this was legal and passes constitutional muster. And it did.
“When our congressional redistricting map was petitioned to popular referendum, it was approved by the voters with a whopping 69% of the vote notwithstanding three?—?count them, three?—?nasty lead editorials of opposition by the Washington Post; editorials accompanied by pictures of ugly maps.”
O’Malley did not tell the Boston College audience that the referendum language written by his Democratic secretary of state said that the lines he drew were simply a constitutional requirement. The ballot question said only that the law “establishes the boundaries for the State’s eight United States Congressional Districts based on recent census figures, as required by the United States Constitution.”
Helped Delaney beat Bartlett
O’Malley’s reapportioned districts helped elect Democrat John Delaney in the 6th Congressional District, defeating 10-term Republican Roscoe Bartlett, and leaving only one Republican in Maryland’s 10-member congressional delegation.
“But that doesn’t mean,” O’Malley went on, “that the antiquated partisan redistricting process?—?now combined with big data, geographic information systems, and micro-targeting of precinct by precinct voting trends?—?is good for our country as a whole, or for our country’s future.”
“This simple reform [of non-partisan redistricting commissions], already being adopted in some states, must become the new norm of American democracy,” O’Malley said.
“How can we possibly expect a spirit of moderation to thrive in our representative bodies otherwise? How can we expect people to vote if their voice has been carved into irrelevance by a political map ahead of time?”
O’Malley’s remarks may lend some support to a federal lawsuit by Republicans claiming that the 6th Congressional District lines were drawn to favor electing a Democrat. As reported by Steve Lash in the Daily Record Thursday, House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller, both Democrats who worked with O’Malley in drawing the lines in 2011, are refusing to testify in the lawsuit on the basis of “legislative immunity.”
Len Lazarick is a former associate editor of The Heights at Boston College, and a founding director of the independent corporation that publishes it, one of the only independent student newspapers at a Catholic university.