State Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot on Wednesday became the highest-ranking Maryland Democrat to endorse the concept of creating single-member districts in the House of Delegates.
Franchot’s ally, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), and GOP legislative leaders have promoted the idea of having 141 single-member districts in the House instead of the current system, which provides three members in each of 47 districts. But legislation to create single-member districts has stalled in the Democratic-led General Assembly.
Most political analysts believe single-member districts would result in at least half a dozen GOP pickups in the House, where Democrats currently enjoy a 99-42 seat majority.
Speaking at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting, Franchot used last week’s Supreme Court decision on gerrymandering to promote the need for redistricting reform in Maryland – a top priority of Hogan’s.
Franchot called the existence of three-member House districts, which overlap with Maryland’s 47 Senate districts, another example of partisan gerrymandering. Reformers believe single-member districts would limit the ability of state senators to effectively become political bosses in their districts.
“I call them incumbent protection slates,” Franchot said, conceding, “I benefited from it when I was in the legislature.”
As a member of the House of Delegates in 2002, Franchot was in fact part of an effort by his legislative team to draw the lines in Montgomery County’s District 20 that was so egregious it became part of a successful legal challenge to the state’s General Assembly map.
Three of the four District 20 incumbents wanted the new lines of the district, which took in Takoma Park and much of inside-the-Beltway Silver Spring at the time, to add a piece of Chevy Chase. This would enable then-Del. John A. Hurson (D), who was estranged from his District 18 teammates, to become a part of the District 20 legislative team – while cutting out then-Del. Dana L. Dembrow (D), whom the rest of the District 20 lawmakers loathed.
Those district boundaries, along with other aspects of the legislative map drawn by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) and endorsed by General Assembly leaders, was thrown out by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which wound up producing its own map.
“Believe me, my hands are not clean,” Franchot said.
As Hogan continues to push for an independent commission to draw congressional and legislative boundaries in the state – a measure that has been resisted by the Democratic legislature – Franchot argued that humans should be taken out of the map-drawing business altogether. He said all district boundaries should be generated by a computer.
“I don’t believe you can truly have a nonpartisan redistricting process as long as it involves human beings,” Franchot said.