Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. formally accepted the congressional and legislative maps drawn by his redistricting commission — and he pledged to introduce them, without alteration, when the General Assembly convenes next month.
The governor and leaders of the General Assembly signed documents on Friday to bring lawmakers back to Annapolis on Dec. 6, for a special session to redraw the state’s congressional boundaries.
Speaking to reporters at a State House ceremony, Hogan (R) praised the nine-member Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission (MCRC) he created in January.
“The commission was given a clear and simple charge — insuring that the people of Maryland are able to choose their elected officials and not the other way around,” the governor said. “This is what real, non-partisan redistricting looks like.”
The MCRC held 16 public meetings that were attended by more than 4,000 people, and commissioners reviewed 86 maps submitted by the public. They also held their work sessions online.
Judge Alexander Williams Jr. (D), one of three co-chairs, said the panel tweaked their early drafts in several parts of the state “in response to public requests.”
Hogan claimed that the maps produced by his commission “finally bring an end to decades of gerrymandering in Maryland.”
Political realities suggest otherwise.
The Maryland General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, has its own commission, the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission (LRAC) — and they have been meeting since September to craft their own maps.
Democrats have such lopsided advantages in each chamber than they can essentially discard the MCRC’s proposals without a second glance, the governor acknowledged. And they are likely to do so.
With Republicans around the country — in Texas, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and elsewhere — poised to draw maps to their advantage, Maryland Democrats are under pressure from national party leaders to do what they can to offset GOP firepower in the mostly larger red states.
According to people familiar with how the process is likely to play out, the process of drawing congressional maps in Maryland will be most heavily influenced by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who was first elected to the Congress in 1981 and is the longest-serving member of the delegation.
Most activists believe it will take a national prohibition to bring the practice of gerrymandering to an end, but lawmakers have been reluctant to act.
An anti-gerrymandering measure sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) has been blocked by Republicans lawmakers.
Hogan acknowledged that “every party is guilty” of gerrymandering. “Republicans do it when they have the power. Democrats do it. But it’s still wrong and it still needs to change.”
The congressional map the General Assembly produced a decade ago contained wildly contorted districts that were generally regarded to be the most politically motivated of all time. The state was sued by a group of Republicans in Western Maryland and their case reached the Supreme Court, but the justices declined to invalidate the state’s map.
Largely because of 2011’s controversial map, Maryland’s congressional delegation is made up of seven Democrats and just one Republican.
The congressional districts produced by the MCRC are, by contrast, compact and contiguous. The lines are even and 18 of Maryland’s 23 counties, as well as Baltimore City, are wholly within one district.
“These maps actually respect natural boundaries, the geographic integrity of our jurisdictions, communities and neighborhoods,” Hogan said. “These fair maps show districts which are geographically compact, that do not take into account how citizens are registered to vote, how they voted in the past, or what political party — if any — they happen to belong to.”
“They also do not take into account in any way where any incumbent or candidate for office happen to reside.”
Department of Planning staff, who assisted the “citizens” commission, were unable to provide the voter registration breakdown of their districts. Nor did they know how residents of the proposed districts voted in the 2020 election. Staff said they didn’t have that data because — by mandate — they were to exclude political considerations.
The proposed congressional map creates six Democratic and two Republican districts as opposed to the current 7-1 configuration, according to the Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s Redistricting Report Card. Commission Co-chair Walter Olson said he was particularly proud that the Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave the state its highest rating for partisan fairness.
When the General Assembly convenes next month, lawmakers will vote to override bills Hogan vetoed in May. Lawmakers are not expected to legislative redistricting until January.
Bennett Leckrone contributed to this report.