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Opinion: Mizeur, Gerrymandering and Maryland Farmers

A scene from Apotheosis Farm near Chestertown, where congressional candidate Heather Mizeur lives. Apotheosis Farm photo.

By Howard Lee Gorrell

The writer is a Maryland redistricting reform activist.

Imagine that, in her version of the famous Grant Wood painting, Heather R. Mizeur posed as a high school student with her welder-farmer father with a pitchfork in front of their “American Gothic” house in the prosperous agricultural township of Blue Mound, Ill., which had a population of 537 in the 1980 census. No doubt her high school had a Future Farmers of America chapter.

Now working the 34-acre organic farm called Apotheosis Farm near Chestertown, on the gorgeous Eastern Shore, Mizeur runs for the Democratic nomination in the 1st congressional district primary. According to her campaign website, her family has been farming for seven generations.

Mizeur is the same person who served as a state delegate representing Montgomery County from 2007 to 2015, and her Maryland General Assembly biography shows nothing about agriculture and farming. Her campaign website does not list traditional agriculture as a key issue other than her plan to include farmers in the fight against climate change. Her lifetime score from the Maryland League of Conservation Voters report card was 98%.

I’m the son of the Future Farmers of America adviser of Farmerville (Ohio) High School, a town with a population of 587 in the 1950 census. Last month, I testified virtually before the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee and Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee in Annapolis.

I told the legislators that the proposed congressional map drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Committee (LRAC) could lead to the disenfranchisement of many Maryland agricultural communities, especially in the newly-drawn 6th and 8th congressional districts. I asserted that the other proposed map, drafted by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission (MCRC), could restore farmers’ voting strength, similar to what it had been after the 2002 round of redistricting.

Currently, there are 52 FFA chapters in Maryland.

Based on the number of the FFA chapters in each congressional district with a math formula (number of chapters/percentage of state chapters by district), I showed three charts to legislators via Zoom. The first chart read, “In the Sixth Congressional District, the 2002 map had 29/56%; 2012 map had 14/27%; the MCRC map would have 26/50%, and the LRAC map would have 14/27%.”

Then I showed another chart reading, “In the Eighth Congressional District, the 2002 map had 1/02%; 2012 map had 12/23%; the MCRC map would have 1/02%, and the LRAC map would have 12/23%.”

I flipped the third chart reading, “In the First Congressional District, the 2002 map had 10/19%; 2012 map had 12/23%; the MCRC map would have 12/23%, and the LRAC map would have 9/17%.”

Interestingly, you might note that there is no change from the 2012 map for the LRAC in both the 6th and 8th Districts, and the LRAC’s 1st District would lose three FFA chapters.

Two hours later, my phone vibrated, and the message was from Steve Shapiro, the original plaintiff of the 2018 Maryland redistricting case, Benisek v. Lamone, before the United States Supreme Court. He emailed, “The House Committee reconvened and voted 5 minutes after the two-hour hearing ended. The vote on HB1 [LRAC map] took 2 minutes. Just a roll call without a whimper of discussion. They should be ashamed — especially the Republicans. They did not vote on HB2 [MCRC map] and might not ever.”

As you probably know, the LRAC map got an “F” rating for fairness by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. Just look at Rep. Jamie Raskin’s new, beautiful and egregious 8th District. It could land on the 10 most gerrymandered districts in the USA after all 50 states complete their redistricting process.

The district as now drawn stretches 60 miles from Carroll County by the Pennsylvania border, with seven FFA chapters, to the Washington, D.C., line in Silver Spring, where no FFA chapter is nearby. However, Raskin gets the FFA chapter of Damascus of Montgomery County from the old 6th District while yielding the Springbrook chapter of Montgomery County to the new 3rd District. So the number of the chapters for the new 8th District shows no change from the old map.

The new 1st District loses three FFA chapters: Manchester Valley of Carroll County to the new 8th, and two Harford County chapters to the new 3rd: Harford Tech and North Harford. Anne Arundel County has three chapters; two in the new 4th District and one in the new 2nd, but nothing in the new 1st.

If Mizeur wins the Democratic primary, she will likely face the incumbent, Rep. Andy Harris (R). An anesthesiologist has no farm in Dorchester County, but, according to the Maryland Farm Bureau, he has received “the Friend of Farm Bureau award from the American Farm Bureau for the 112th, 113th, 114th, 115th, and 116th Congress — every term that he has been in Congress.”

If Mizeur wins the 2022 general election, the former gubernatorial candidate could be the first farmer-environmentalist to represent Maryland in Congress. The last traditional farmer was Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R), who served the 6th District from 1993 to 2013. In October 2010, the sheep farmer from Buckeystown was the only person in Congress receiving the Friend of Farm Bureau Award.

Does Mizeur know the difference between the Ayrshire cow breed and the Holstein cow breed? The difference between the Berkshire pig breed and the Yorkshire pig breed? The difference between barley and wheat? Growing up in a rural agricultural environment similar to Mizeur’s, I say, “Of course, yes.”

But voting for Mizeur is another matters. That’s up to traditional agriculture electorate living in the new 1st District.


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Opinion: Mizeur, Gerrymandering and Maryland Farmers