Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) intensified his long-standing war with Democratic leaders over congressional redistricting Monday, creating an “emergency commission” of citizens to redraw the lines in the 6th congressional district, which were declared unconstitutional by a federal court earlier this month.
Hogan directed the nine-member commission, which will consist of three Republicans, three Democrats and three unaffiliated voters, to convene public hearings and submit a new map to the Democratic-led General Assembly by March 4 – enough time, in theory, for the legislature to act before adjourning in April.
“Our state has the unfortunate distinction of having the most gerrymandered congressional lines in the entire nation,” the governor said at a State House news conference Monday afternoon.
Hogan has been at odds with Democratic leaders on redistricting since the beginning of his administration. His push to reform the redistricting process by taking map-drawing away from the politicians and into the hands of an independent commission has gone nowhere.
But when a panel of three federal judges U.S. District Court sided this month with Republicans who claimed their constitutional rights were violated when Democrats made the 6th District boundaries more hostile to the GOP, Hogan’s crusade took on new life. He signed an emergency order Monday creating the new commission to redraw the 6th District lines and declared he would redouble his quest to see the post-2020 Census congressional map drawn by an independent commission.
“Showing real leadership by taking action right now is the right thing to do,” Hogan said. He noted that voters in four states – Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah – approved measures in the recent election creating independent redistricting commissions.
Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) has appealed the District Court’s redistricting ruling to the Supreme Court, seeking guidance on national map-drawing standards and asking the justices for a stay of the lower court order that the state produce new 6th District boundaries well before the 2020 election.
Hogan conceded that the attorney general, though the state’s official lawyer, is an independent position and that Frosh had the right to appeal the District Court ruling. But he was highly critical of that decision.
“Unfortunately and inexplicably,” the governor said, “Brian Frosh continues to be on the wrong side of this fight and on the wrong side of history.”
Hogan said that Frosh should have recused himself from any decision-making about Maryland’s legal case, suggesting that Frosh as a state senator was “very involved” in drawing the current congressional boundaries. Democrats have conceded that the map drawn following the 2010 Census was designed to help them win an extra seat – which is exactly what happened, as 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett was ousted by Democrat John K. Delaney in 2012. Democrats currently hold a 7-1 advantage in the state’s U.S. House delegation.
Frosh’s spokeswoman, Raquel Coombs, declined to comment Monday. The office of state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) also declined to comment.
Hogan’s emergency order creates a nine-member commission to suggest changes to the 6th District boundaries – though those recommendations will also necessitate changes to at least some of the state’s other congressional district lines.
The emergency commission will be headed by the two men who lead Hogan’s Redistricting Reform Commission – Walter K. Olson, a Republican and Cato Institute senior fellow, and retired U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr., a Democrat appointed to the federal bench by President Clinton. Ashley Oleson, an unaffiliated voter who represents the League of Women Voters on the Redistricting Reform Commission, will also serve on the new commission.
Hogan said the other six members of the commission – two Democrats, two Republicans and two independents – will be vetted by Olson and Williams from a pool of applicants who can sign up to be considered at the website https://governor.maryland.gov/free-and-fair/.
Hogan’s executive order dictates that members of Congress or congressional candidates, officers or employees of political committees, members of the governor’s staff or legislative and congressional staffers, or current and former lobbyists, cannot serve on the commission. Anyone interested in serving must apply by Dec. 10.
Hogan acknowledged that the work of the commission could be short-circuited if the Supreme Court agrees to Frosh’s request for a stay of the lower court’s redistricting ruling. But he said it would be better for the state to start work on a new District 6 plan rather than be ordered at the last minute to produce one.
“Something could change, but I don’t want to take it for granted,” Hogan said. “In a little over 90 days, we have to draw a new map.”
Whether Democrats will rush to serve on the commission – and whether legislative leaders will even consider acting on a map that Hogan’s commission produces – are very much open questions. Williams, who served as Prince George’s County state’s attorney and lost a bid for Congress in 1992, when new district boundaries took effect following the 1990 Census, said he was “honored” to serve as the Democratic face of Hogan’s reform efforts.
“Pretty much everyone in Maryland understands that there are flaws and there ought to be solutions,” Williams said Monday.