One significant theme in this year’s General Assembly Session was ethics reform and promoting good government behavior. The General Assembly passed the first meaningful ethics reform legislation the State has seen in two decades and a large measure of credit goes to Governor Hogan for pushing for real, fundamental change. Of course another major part of Governor Hogan’s reform agenda – which I was proud to co-sponsor - was redistricting reform legislation.
The Hogan proposal would have created a non-partisan redistricting commission to oversee both congressional and state legislative redistricting when it takes place every ten years. The Democratic Party majority leadership in Annapolis rejected the Governor’s plan. Instead of tackling the issue of gerrymandering straight on, General Assembly Democrats pushed through a do-nothing redistricting bill that would only redraw Maryland’s congressional districts if, and only if, the states of Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and North Carolina all passed a similar redistricting law. And, the Democrats’ bill was silent on the issue of state legislative redistricting.
This bill was designed to simply provide political cover to the majority party. If this became law, we would not be appreciably better off than we are now. By saying “we won’t act unless five other states do”, the General Assembly might as well say “we’ll never act”.
I was one of the leaders in opposition to this phony bill in the Senate. But, before the final vote, I offered an amendment on the Senate floor that would have at least limited it to a coalition just between Maryland and Virginia to redistrict together. It was rejected. In fact, the Democrat majority rejected all amendments, including an amendment to add the Governor’s provisions into the bill.
Last week, Governor Hogan wisely vetoed this disingenuous legislation and I strongly support his action. An overwhelming majority of Marylanders, regardless of party, believe that our state should have fairly drawn districts. The majority party want to sweep this issue under the rug and continue to allow one-party rule to dominate the State. I will add that there were some Democratic legislators in Annapolis that agreed with us and joined us, just not enough.
Maryland has the worst examples of gerrymandered districts in the country. Many of our districts have drawn comparisons to a “broken-winged pterodactyl”. Some large counties have three or four congressional districts snaking through them. There is no plausible explanation for why Taneytown and Ocean City should be in the same congressional district. Marylanders deserve equitable representation in Congress and the General Assembly. Non-partisan redistricting reform is the only way we can accomplish this objective.
Gerrymandering is a national problem – and admittedly both parties have engaged in it in other states. However, Maryland is in a unique position to be a national leader in solving the issue. I plan to continue to work with Governor Hogan and my colleagues to push for real, lasting reform in redistricting. Of course, I would love to hear your thoughts on this or any other issue. Please feel free to contact me anytime.
The writer is a State Senator representing District 5 – Carroll County.