ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland’s congressional redistricting process this year has shown it’s getting harder for Democrats to make gains against Republicans in the state’s eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
While that’s partly because there are only two Republicans left on opposite ends of the state, state officials working on a new congressional map for the next 10 years also have seen spirited interest by minorities seeking greater representation as a result of minority population growth over the past decade.
Maryland currently has two majority-minority congressional districts, represented by Rep. Donna Edwards and Rep. Elijah Cummings, both of whom are Democratic African-Americans.
Demographic changes over the last decade have prompted minority groups to call for a third majority-minority district.
The map has drawn the interest of groups representing minorities this year, after the 2010 census showed all of the state’s population gain over the past decade resulted from increases in minorities. Montgomery County, Maryland’s largest jurisdiction, for the first time has more minority residents than white residents, with 40.7 percent identifying themselves as black, Hispanic or Latino, Asian or Pacific Islander or an ethnicity other than non-Hispanic white.
Elbridge James, political action chairman for the NAACP’s Maryland State Conference, said the African-American community, as well as the Latino and Asian communities in Maryland, are paying much more attention to the redistricting process this time than in past decades.
“We’ve become more politically aware of the consequences of relying on somebody else to look at your vested interests, and that’s a fact,” James said Saturday while standing outside a closed meeting of the Legislative Black Caucus in Annapolis, where black lawmakers discussed the proposed redistricting map.
The caucus had been expected to vote on supporting the redistricting plan, but the vote was postponed until Monday.
Lawmakers leaving the meeting were not eager to talk in detail about happened.
“There was a lot of discussion over the governor’s map, and people had various opinions,” said Sen. Catherine Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the caucus.
Edwards, who attended the meeting, has contended minority representation appears to have been sacrificed to both national and statewide political interests. Edwards would lose all the Montgomery County portion of her current district, as a large portion of the state’s largest county is shifted into Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s district.
“I understand and share the political interests that are at stake, both nationally and in our state,” Edwards said in a statement last week. “Nonetheless, I cannot support this plan in its current form given that minority representation interests appear to have been sacrificed for these political interests.”
Edwards argued in a statement last week that the map means majority-minority Montgomery will likely be unable to have minority representation for the next decade in any of the three proposed new congressional districts that will be in the county.
The debate has even prompted the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, which is based in heavily Democratic Prince George’s County, to sign on to a Republican plan that would include three majority-minority districts.
The added focus on minority concerns has complicated the redistricting process for a Democratic governor who is aiming to add another seat to the Democrats’ 6-2 edge over Republicans.
It was easier a decade ago, when there was a 4-4 split with Republicans. But now, with one Republican seat in the western part of the state and the other in the east, it’s a tricky puzzle to add Democratic voters in those districts without causing significant heartburn to at least some of the six Democrats in the middle of the state. That has been evident in the past week, as some have sought changes to a recommended map submitted by the governor’s redistricting advisory panel.
The governor’s advisory panel decided against trying to make the 1st Congressional district easier for a Democrat, even though Republican Rep. Andy Harris is in his first term in the district that includes all of the Eastern Shore. Instead, the panel made big changes to the 6th Congressional district, which has been held by Bartlett since 1993.
O’Malley will formally submit his congressional redistricting proposal to the General Assembly on Monday for a special session, but the proposal will be coming after a week of private meetings with lawmakers and representatives from minority groups with concerns about the map.
The O’Malley administration made its map public Saturday evening on the Maryland Department of Planning’s website with only marginal changes to the plan, mostly to put some parts of the 6th and 8th Congressional districts back where they were.
“The changes we did were very small and around the edges,” Joseph Bryce, O’Malley’s chief legislative officer, said Saturday. “Nothing fundamental.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)