ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Several lawmakers and residents espoused their concerns about a proposed legislative redistricting map for 188 seats in the Maryland General Assembly on Thursday, with some taking issue with how the district lines have been drawn to represent the state’s minorities.
Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who hosted the hearing, said he will weigh the comments and consider changes before formally submitting the map to the General Assembly on the first day of the session in January.
“I’ve seen it and looked at it a couple of times now, but having heard citizens’ testimony, yes, I’m going to go back,”
O’Malley said after a hearing that lasted about three hours. “I’m going to look at it. I don’t expect it to change very much, but I thought there were some good points made.”
The hearing in Annapolis began after reports that one of five members on the governor’s advisory commission on redistricting had last week pleaded guilty to federal authorities to failing to pay about $4 million in taxes on a company he owned in the state.
Richard Stewart, who wasn’t at the hearing, faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, according to the Justice Department.
Opponents of the proposal criticized having less than a week to review the map, which was made public Friday.
Carletta Fellows, a spokeswoman for a Prince George’s County political action committee, said the map dilutes the black vote.
Her group, the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, was a catalyst for organizing a federal lawsuit against the state’s congressional redistricting map, which the General Assembly passed in October. She said another lawsuit could be filed against the state legislative map.
“If you recall, the court slapped down a similar egregious redistricting plan in 2002,” Fellows said, referring to the Court
of Appeals ruling against the state legislative map nearly a decade ago. “In closing, the Fannie Lou Hamer PAC hopes that Governor O’Malley will use greater sensitivity to the black and brown communities here in the state of Maryland, unlike what Gov. (Parris) Glendening did then.”
House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell said the House Republican caucus will submit alternative maps during the session next month.
“The Fannie Lou Hamer PAC plan, our plan, other amendments, should be given the normal legislative consideration with an up or down vote, and we will be pushing very hard for that because we think public discourse and shining the light on this process is very helpful to all of us regardless of party,” O’Donnell, R-Calvert, said.
Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, R-Talbot, said the caucus is concerned about districts on the Eastern Shore that have been overpopulated to pack in voters. She also pointed to Carroll County. While the county has the population to justify having four delegates, it will only have three under the proposed map.
Caroline County Commissioner Jeff Ghrist, a Republican, urged the governor to consider adding nearly 9,000 people to the part of the county in District 36 on the Eastern Shore that includes four counties. Caroline County has not had a resident delegate since 1992, because it gets outvoted by the other three counties for the three delegates in the district, critics of the district’s shape say.
Democrats also had concerns.
Sen. Dolores Kelley of Baltimore County said 14 of 19 new precincts that the map would add to District 10, which she
represents, are comprised of voting age populations that are majority white. She said no court would hold the new District 10 would meet the legal test of compactness, relative to other proposed districts in Baltimore County.
“In conclusion, I posit that your Baltimore region map is not ready for prime time, as it separates communities of interest in Baltimore County,” Kelley said.
The proposed map also makes a significant change in Baltimore city to reflect population loss there. For example, about
two-thirds of District 44, which is now entirely in the city, would move into Baltimore County.
Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell, D-Baltimore, who represents that district, said she appreciated the panel’s efforts to be sensitive to needed changes in the district.
“However, there is concern that the way that it was done is not maybe the most appropriate, given the natural migration patterns from the Baltimore city population out into Baltimore County,” Jones-Rodwell said.
Jones-Rodwell illustrated the sensitivity the new proposed lines are to lawmakers, when she mentioned how she wasn’t included with speakers who had pre-registered to testify before the governor and the redistricting panel, even though she had registered to speak.
“A lot has been said about the 44th delegation. I thought when my name wasn’t called, it already had been cut out,” Jones-Rodwell quipped.
O’Malley will send a final map to the General Assembly on the first day of the legislative session. Lawmakers will have 45 days to either approve it or pass an alternative plan. If lawmakers don’t approve an alternative plan, the governor’s proposal becomes law.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)