A federal judge once described Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District as “reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.” On Friday, an anti-gerrymandering group gave out free slices of pizza in the shape of the district in Annapolis in a bid to raise awareness about redistricting.
Gerry’s Partisan Pizza, a traveling food truck from the anti-corruption nonprofit group RepresentUs, was doling out free district-shaped pizza slices outside of the Maryland State House in Annapolis Friday. RepresentUs listed Maryland and 26 other states as having an “extreme” risk for partisan gerrymandering in its Gerrymandering Threat Index earlier this year for giving “politicians complete control over an often-secretive, poorly-protected redistricting process.”
While lawmakers have control over the redistricting process in Maryland, the state’s upcoming round of mapmaking is set to be highly unconventional: This will be the first time in six decades that Maryland will go through redistricting with a governor of one party and a legislature of another.
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and the General Assembly have created dueling commissions to propose the state’s next congressional and legislative districts.
Hogan created the multi-partisan Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, composed of three Republicans, three Democrats and three Independent voters, via executive order earlier this year. That panel has conducted several rounds of regional and statewide public hearings starting in June, and is set to finalize its draft congressional and legislative maps at a meeting next Wednesday.
Legislative leaders set up the bipartisan Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission over the summer, which is chaired by Karl Aro, the former executive director of the non-partisan Department of Legislative Services. The legislative commission, which also includes four Democratic and two Republican legislative leaders, kicked off its public hearings in September, but hasn’t produced draft maps for public comment yet. The General Assembly, where Democrats hold a veto-proof majority in the House of Delegates and the Senate, will have the final say over redistricting.
During a visit to the pizza truck on Friday, Hogan criticized the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, and charged that lawmakers were working with “secret maps that we haven’t seen.”
“It’s not the way to do things, behind closed doors and in smoke-filled rooms,” Hogan said.
Hogan said he would oppose maps from the General Assembly that “don’t follow what the Citizens Redistricting Commission has come up with.” Hogan can veto congressional maps, but Democrats have easily overridden his vetoes on numerous measures during the governor’s tenure.
A spokesperson for House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. Jones, a member of the legislative commission, said at an initial meeting that the panel will “follow the advice of counsel at every step, making sure that the rights of all Marylanders are protected.” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), who also sits on the legislative panel, pledged a “fair and transparent process” at that meeting.
Some who testified at previous Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission hearings said the commission should make draft maps available for public comment before the panel’s final hearing on Nov. 18. Aro said at an early October meeting that he hopes the commission will produce draft maps by Nov. 15. Aro said pandemic-related U.S. Census delays are to blame for the panel’s time constraints.
Fair Maps Maryland, an anti-gerrymandering group formed by a pair of former lawmakers with ties to Hogan to support the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, submitted a public records request last week for a slew of documents including any maps reviewed by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission over the past six months.
Gerry’s Partisan Pizza is set to make stops in Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the coming weeks, according to its website. Hogan said Friday he also supports federal reforms to end partisan gerrymandering nationwide.
“Both parties are guilty of this,” Hogan said. “Whoever has the power tends to use it to their advantage, but it’s just wrong. Politicians should not be picking their voters.”