Why Are Democrats Afraid of House Bill 44?

One of the most important pieces of legislation that has been introduced in this year’s General Assembly session is House Bill 44 and its Senate companion, Senate Bill 91.

The synopsis of the bill:

Proposing an amendment to the Maryland Constitution to require single-member delegate districts; altering certain standards for the drawing of legislative districts; proposing a new article to the Maryland Constitution to establish standards for the drawing of congressional districts; establishing a Legislative and Congressional Redistricting and Apportionment Commission; requiring the Commission to divide the State into certain legislative districts and congressional districts; submitting the amendment to the qualified voters of the State; etc.

The bill is an administration bill co-sponsored by all but one Republican in the State Senate and most Republicans in the House of Delegates.

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This bill does some pretty important stuff. Like:

  • Mandating single-member districts in the House of Delegates;
  • Require that districts “respect natural boundaries and the geographic integrity and continuity of any municipal corporation, county, or other subdivision to the extent practicable” for both legislative and congressional districts;
  • Require that political party and voting history not be taken into consideration for drawing both legislative and congressional districts;
  • Require that the home of an elected official not be taken into consideration for drawing both legislative and congressional districts; and
  • Creates an independent redistricting commission.

This bill pretty much encapsulates the entirety of what Republicans have been asking for in redistricting for years. But it likely isn’t going to go anywhere thanks to Democratic resistance to change.

One reason why Governor Hogan’s redistricting reforms have gone nowhere is that Democrats have enough baked-in advantages that it becomes politically expedient for them to do nothing. They can continue to manipulate the system the way it exists to make sure that establishment Democrats continue to get to pick their voters and to ensure that redistricting can be used as a weapon against legislators that deviate from the Democratic orthodoxy.

Don’t think that’s the case? Ask yourself then why District 31 was split from being a three-member legislative district into having a two-member subdistrict and a one-member subdistrict that conveniently was drawn to make it more likely a Democrat can be elected. Ask yourself then why in 2002 Parris Glendenning drew an Anne Arundel County district that included four precincts from across the Patapsco River that just happened to include the home of a conservative Democratic senator who had bucked the Governor.

These type of Democratic abuses in redistricting happen time and time and time again. These are the same abuses that Democrats accuse Republicans in other states of engaging in to protect Republican Congressional majorities. But for Democrats in Maryland, these are a vital part of their continued hegemony and just the standard way that Democrats do business.

Democrats don’t want to pass a bill like HB44 or SB91 because it would require them to do the right thing. It would require them to give up the power that has created their supermajority in the General Assembly. It would require districts to be drawn fairly and compactly instead of drawing monstrosities like the 3rd Congressional district. It would mean that Republicans might be more competitive in the House of Delegates in several areas of the state. In might mean more representation for women and minorities. And Democrats apparently aren’t interested in any of that.

Are “good government” groups like Common Cause and the League of Women Voters going to hold Democratic legislators feet to the fire when it comes to these bills? Hardly. But we must continue to pressure Democrats to support these bills. If Democrats in Annapolis want to see fair and free elections as much as they say they do, they would whole-heartedly embrace these electoral reforms and all voters to elected a General Assembly that is truly representative of the people of this state.

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