By Diane Rey
For Maryland Reporter
Republican Del. Michael Malone is hoping momentum is building for his anti-gerrymandering bill, now that 22 Democrats have joined all 42 Republicans in supporting his effort to redraw the state’s congressional boundaries.
The Anne Arundel County Republican is the lead sponsor of HB463 which would amend the state constitution to do away with convoluted district lines and put the decision before voters on the November 2020 ballot.
The bill would require congressional districts to be compact and respect geographic boundaries as well as city and county boundaries — the same requirement in the state constitution for legislative districts.
He submitted an identical bill in 2018 that gained the support of Democrats and good government groups such as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, but the bill never got out of committee.
This year, there seems to be new momentum.
“Last year I had 13 Democrats signed on. This year I have 22. I think this shows the trend in both parties as to why this is a significant issue and needs to be fixed in Maryland,” said Malone.
Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties,, who’s in a leadership position as vice chair of the Health and Government Operations Committee, is among the bill’s sponsors. A majority of Montgomery County delegates are also sponsoring the bill, Malone said.
Freshmen sign on
Several freshman Democrats also have signed on as sponsors, including Anne Arundel legislators Dels. Alice Cain and Heather Bagnall.
Said Cain in a statement: “I support nonpartisan redistricting because it matters for the integrity of our democracy. I heard a lot about this issue on the campaign trail and join many voters in my district in hoping the Supreme Court will give us some national guidance for something that is a serious national problem. Maryland can’t do this alone — we need to address this problem in every state for every voter. I’m closely following Eric Holder’s efforts at the national level and will keep trying to do my part here in Maryland.”
Bagnall, who represents typically conservative District 33 with Malone, also heard complaints from citizens about gerrymandering, she said.
“I’m supporting it because we have to do the right thing, and because it was a big concern of my constituents when I was campaigning. I was asked about it a lot. At every forum, I was asked,” she said.
Anne Arundel County is split into four congressional districts
Asked about the growing level of Democratic support for the bill, she pointed to Maryland’s status as one of the most gerrymandered states in the union.
“Maryland has gotten a really bad reputation and we don’t like that,” she said.
Gov. Larry Hogan, who has submitted his own bills on redistricting reform again this session, also supports Malone’s efforts.
“I commend Delegate Malone for introducing this common sense legislation to prevent the unconscionable gerrymandering of Maryland’s congressional districts,” said Hogan in a press release. “Our administration has been fighting since day one to bring free and fair elections, the most basic tenet of our democracy, back to our state.”
Malone has submitted a second bill, HB1048, that removes party affiliation and voting history from being considered in determining legislative districts. It is co-sponsored by the Republican leadership in the House, Minority Leader Nic Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, and Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore and Harford counties,, as well as Del. Sid Saa, R, also of District 33 in Anne Arundel.
Saab said he’s not surprised so many Democrats are supporting the anti-gerrymandering bill – but he will be surprised if they vote for it.
“New members are for it until they get the message (from the Democratic leadership) they shouldn’t be supporting it,” he said. “It’s embarrassing how we have these districts.”
He said there’s a simple reason why the prevailing party doesn’t want to change it in Maryland: “It protects your friends and hurts your enemies.”
Even though the legislation may fail once again, Malone is passionate about keeping the issue alive.
“I think everything we pass often gets tainted by the hyper-partisan politics that sometimes gets involved … Good policy is often in the middle,” he said. “The politics in the nation and in Maryland is hampering us from having better decisions and better lawmaking.”
Both of Malone’s bills are scheduled for a hearing on March 4 in the Rules Committee of the House, dominated by Democratic leadership. A companion to the anti-gerrymandering bill, sponsored by Sen. Ed Reilly, R, also of District 33, will be heard in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee Feb. 28.