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As Long as We Remember...

June 23, 2011

Power and Money

Chris Cavey

Time marches on. The summer solstice has come and gone and daylight is getting less and less. Still little has been mentioned by Maryland's governor about redistricting. No committee has been appointed to date and little has been said publically about the expected special session of the Maryland General Assembly slated for this fall.


This begs the question: Does Gov. Martin O'Malley and the Democratic Party really care about public input in realigning our political districts, or will it be, just as expected, a superficial showing to appease the public?


During the last redistricting process in 2001, Gov. Parris Glendenning had, by this time, already appointed his redistricting commission and announced their statewide schedule for public hearings. Although hindsight tells us it was just a perfunctory appeasement of the public, none-the-less, credit the fact he was ahead of our current governor's non-existent schedule.


This delay in commission appointment and schedule announcement should cause the public to wonder if the "fix" is already in on drawing district lines, or if his trip to China and other unknown "matters" outweigh listening to public opinion on the reorganization of political districts.


Most of Maryland's politicos are convinced that a late fall meeting of the Maryland General Assembly will be called and have two main agenda items: congressional redistricting and increasing revenue; (laying aside the revenue discussion, for now) which means Governor O'Malley needs to squeeze in a few public hearings fairly soon!


Redistricting of political jurisdictions is the most partisan event which happens in the political world. Every decade the party in power changes the boundaries to suit its needs. Interestingly, the act of drawing new congressional boundaries has basically no rules – and everyone involved knows it!


Federal law only speaks to the principle of one man one vote and the requirement to have majority minority districts where applicable. From that point the sky is the limit and the party in power gets to show its creativity – without retribution and normally with limited public outcry.


Maryland is currently the home of two of the Top 10 most gerrymandered congressional districts in the country. We have such a small state, yet Governor Glendenning, in 2001, bestowed on us this dubious honor. After unveiling his resourcefully drawn congressional map there was limited press coverage, an expected outrage from Republicans and, of course, plenty of chuckling from the Democrats.


Keep in mind, although the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned Glendenning's legislative redistricting map (which had less blatant gerrymandering,) the congressional map was easily passed by the Democrat-lead General Assembly – no questions asked... and no fear of a court challenge, or it being overturned. It was the apex of partisan politics in a single party dominated state and it will likely happen once again very soon.


So, what is the best guess for the O'Malley map? Expect to see both Republican congressmen (Rep. Andrew Harris and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett) drawn out of their districts. Anticipate GOP dominate areas of the state either diluted with hard core Democrat voters (Harris' district) or packed with every possible Republican leaning precinct into a giant district, spanning the breath of the Mason-Dixon (Bartlett's district).


Look forward to seeing both majority-minority districts maintained and strengthened. Assume all Democrat congressional members to be protected. Look for the First Congressional District to gain vast amounts of African American voters to increase base Democrat support. Presume, in general, you will see gerrymandering once again in its finest hour.


The O'Malley congressional map only has to serve Governor O'Malley and members of his party. In January his legislative redistricting map will do the same. It will have a few other Maryland Constitutional requirements; but, in the end, it will be overtly self-serving and limited in deference to the general public's comments and comminutes of interest.


Hey! Why not? The party in power is afforded this opportunity once each decade. It has limited press value and only the hard core political communities even care about the outcome. No one listens to the tiny minority of Republicans; the Democrats are dominate and continue to chuckle.


After the fact of redistricting, the average citizen will just shrug and claim limited understanding – or blame it all on crooked politicians, people they elect and re-elect. And this leads to our current situation of apathy and low turnout at the ballot box.


We should assume – at some unknown time in the future – a redistricting commission will be appointed. It will stop at a few locations around Maryland, display maps from prior redistricting committees, pretend to listen, later write up a report for public record and hand it to Governor O'Malley. He will presumably then say thank you for its time on the road.


If the report ever makes the light of day, it is doubtful that few, if any, suggestions will be heeded. Odds are the maps are already complete and being checked by the governor's inner circle. Odds are the few hearings to be held will only be due diligence to the law and for good public relations. Odds are the maps are already drawn and we won't change them.


So...cartography and gerrymandering are only the excuses used to call our members of the General Assembly to special session this fall. The real reason will be enhancing revenue for the State of Maryland. Look for more hours of discussion on new taxes and fees than on geographic boundary and communities of interest – a subject for another column!


Dominance in politics is about power and money...the special session this fall will certainly cover both subjects.


Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
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