Maryland General Assembly passes new congressional map solidifying Democrats’ power

This article appeared here in the Washington Post on December 8th, 2021.

The Maryland General Assembly passed a new congressional map Wednesday that will solidify Democrats’ significant political advantage for the next 10 years, over loud but futile objections from Republicans.

The bill, passed on a party-line vote in both chambers, will soon head to Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has said he would veto a gerrymandered map. But Democrats hold supermajorities in both chambers and can override him.

The new congressional map, drawn after the census every 10 years, offers Democrats seven safe congressional seats while making the state’s only Republican district more competitive for Democrats.

Maryland Democrats were under pressure to retain their current stronghold in the state’s congressional delegation given that national Democrats are in jeopardy of losing control of the U.S. House after next year’s midterm elections. And from Ohio to Texas, Republicans control redistricting in far more states than Democrats, meaning the GOP is already picking up more seats through partisan gerrymandering in the states that have completed maps.

Competitive House districts are getting wiped off the map

The changes in Maryland could put Rep. Andy Harris (R) at risk in 2022, depending on the national atmosphere.

“This map takes the Eastern Shore and points it into Anne Arundel County,” said state Sen. Edward R. Reilly (R-Anne Arundel), noting how the new 1st District would jump the Chesapeake Bay. “And it is my opinion that it is for the sole purpose of removing the sole remaining Republican congressman. And I find that problematic.”

Maryland Republicans acknowledged throughout debates this week that their counterparts in other states were engaging in unfair political gamesmanship, as well — but they implored Democratic colleagues with some variation of the adage that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Democrats were not swayed.Theyshot down Republican amendments in both chambers that would have substituted the map drawn by Hogan’s citizen advisory commission for Democrats’ preferred alternative. The citizens’ commission map likely would have yielded a delegation of six Democrats and two Republicans. It received an A grade from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project — which Democrats repeatedly tried to discredit — versus an F for the Democrats’ map.

“History is not going to look back on this body’s decision kindly,” Del. Lauren C. Arikan (R-Hartford) told the House chamber Tuesday, framing Democrats’ justifications as an “end justifies the means” exercise. “We all know it.”

Maryland’s last round of redistricting led to some of the most high-profile legal battles over partisan gerrymandering in the nation. One case over the 6th Congressional District in Western Maryland went up to the U.S. Supreme Court, andthe former governor admitted Democrats drewthe lines for the specific purpose of ousting a Republican incumbent. In the end, the high court ruled that federal courts were not the proper avenue for partisan gerrymandering claims — enabling politicians to continue the practice that critics say is only intensifying polarization nationwide.

Fair Maps Maryland, a nonpartisan anti-gerrymandering group, said it was already planning to take “aggressive legal action” against the map in state court.

“We look forward to seeing Governor Hogan veto this ridiculous and unconstitutional map as soon as possible,” said organization spokesman Doug Mayer. “Make no mistake — this level of gerrymandering is voter suppression.”

Which party controls congressional redistricting in your state

Maryland Democrats repeatedly stressed this week that the new map was drawn to keep as many people in the same congressional districts as possible and to keep the core of the districts the same. In turn, this commitment to minimally disrupting the map also kept incumbents in their districts — in some cases just barely, such as in Districts 2 and 3, where incumbents’ residences in Cockeysville and Towson, respectively, are very close to the boundary lines.

Democrats also argued that the new map corrected some of the convoluted lines that plague the current map, while keeping communities of interest intact. They also argued it reflected the state’s growing diversity.Maryland, which added roughly 400,000 people since 2010, was one of two states to flip from being majority-White to having a majority of people of color over the past 10 years.

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