The reaction to Larry Hogan’s creation of a commission to study redistricting has met with some interesting reactions. As I noted last week, both House Speaker Mike Busch and Senate President Mike Miller rejected the idea out of hand, not surprisingly as it would be their personal power to dictate the details of at least portions - if not all - of any future redistricting plan that would be at risk.
Over the weekend, reactions came from Senate candidates Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, in ways that highlight the different strengths of the two candidates. Van Hollen, a one term delegate and a two term senator before being elected to Congress in 2002, echoed the sentiments of Busch and Miller.
“I trust you will agree that it makes more sense to have one set of nonpartisan rules for the entire country rather than a state-by-state approach that can be used to disadvantage one party over the other at the national level,” Van Hollen wrote to Hogan, who on Thursday created a commission to study the redistricting process in Maryland.
The Montgomery County Democrat said he is “open to reviewing” Hogan’s proposal, but indicated in a separate letter to House Speaker John Boehner that he supports a national, rather than state-by-state, approach.
Edwards, who’s never served in Annapolis, took a slightly more conciliatory approach to Hogan’s proposal.
Van Hollen’s letters on the issue came shortly after his opponent in the Senate race, Rep. Donna F. Edwards of Prince George’s County, seemed to offer a subtly more supportive statement — though she also did not endorse Hogan’s efforts. Edwards said she will review the proposal to determine whether it would truly be independent of partisan politics.
“I have long supported redistricting reforms to end the damage partisan gerrymandering does to our democracy,” Edwards said. “As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act this week, we should denounce a process that far too often places political interests over ensuring that all Americans have fair representation.”
John Fritze of the Sun very interestingly compared the current reactions of Edwards and Van Hollen to their reactions to the 2011 redistricting and the way they were treated - by the two guys now taking a maximalist rejectionary approach to Hogan’s reform concept.
The reactions from Van Hollen and Edwards are particularly interesting because of how differently the two Democrats approached the 2011 redistricting. In a way, their dissimilar styles during that year’s special legislative session presaged themes of their Senate campaigns.
Edwards, who casts herself as independent of the party structure, was vocally opposed to the plan — largely because her 4th District lost territory in Montgomery County. She proposed her own map, testified against the proposal submitted by Gov. Martin O’Malley and tried to rally the Legislative Black Caucus to oppose it.
Van Hollen, who has touted his “effectiveness” and ability to build coalitions, met privately with O’Malley in Annapolis and rarely discussed his thoughts on the early drafts of the map. Van Hollen, who represents the 8th District, also lost portions of his base in Montgomery County and picked up GOP territory in Carroll County.
Let’s boil this down. Edwards objected loudly and publicly, and she got treated worse by Miller, Busch and O’Malley for having done so, being stripped of all her Montgomery County turf and getting a big chunk of conservative areas of Anne Arundel County added to her district. Van Hollen, on the other hand, got screwed in the initial plan, had quiet meetings with the state leaders, and ended up doing a little bit better when O’Malley tweaked the original maps in the final plan.
As a matter of individual effectiveness, Van Hollen accomplished more than Edwards did. But the blatant use of the redistricting power to bully not just state but federal elected officials, with no apparent regard whatsoever for voters or for the democratic process, is never going to end without the kind of advocacy on a wider scale that Donna Edwards employed in 2011. Whispered, quiet meetings beseeching those in power for a crumb here or a map tweak there only enhance the power, and do nothing to curb or end it. So on this issue, I’m with the Donna Edwards approach. Speak truth to power, especially when it is being abused as patently as it is, and has been, for many years.
Two final notes: first, not just this article, but a number of others, make the mistake of calling Hogan’s creation of a commission a “plan.” This is wrong. There is no preordained specific proposal that the commission will create, just a search for good ideas. Which makes the Miller/Busch flat refusal that much more telling - they don’t want a change to the current plan because it works very well for them, thank you very much. They could participate in the commission process and advocate for a continued role for the two presiding officers. But clearly, they don’t want to do even this much to defend the propriety of their involvement. So they’d just as soon shut it down before it even starts. Apparently, even discussing the process is dangerous to the status quo.
Second, the call for national redistricting reform is both cynical and assumes basic ignorance of what’s going on around the country. There’s no chance for a federal independent redistricting law. Zero. And hot tip here, folks: 21 states already have some form of independent redistricting for either congressional or state redistricting, or both. These include traditional GOP states like Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas. So Maryland wouldn’t be breaking new ground by taking the redistricting process out of the hands of the legislature - unless you’re the Speaker of the House or the Senate President. Which is what we’re seeing now, five years before the next census. I’ve already written about how it’s a bad bet, regardless of the policy. And now we see that the policy stinks, so much so that states around the country are changing. Even this Supreme Court, authors of Citizens United and other horror stories of campaign finance and election law, blessed the Arizona redistricting arrangement last month.
Keep all this in mind when you hear Messrs. Busch and Miller declaim against even the idea of a STUDY of redistricting reform. And listen also to the total silence from elected officials who are always ready to discuss election law or campaign finance reform. Not on this, they will stay silent and avert their eyes. I’m not knocking them, mind you - they’re scared to speak up, and with good reason - they could be redistricted out of a job come the 2022 election. But someone has to speak up or this retrograde system will continue, while other states move forward. We in Maryland like to pride ourselves on being reformers and innovators. Not in this case.