Monday, January 24, 2011

Redistricting: How Greedy Will The Dems Get?

Maryland Democrats’ favorite decennial political bloodsport – redistricting – is about to begin.

Those of us who follow politics in Maryland closely wonder just how greedy Democrats will be in trying to expand their dominance of the state’s congressional delegation. If history is any indication, the answer to that question is, “Very greedy.”

In 1992, Senate President Mike Miller unveiled his infamous “people’s plan” for redistricting. What it basically did is throw Helen Bentley and Wayne Gilchrest – two of the state’s three GOP representatives – into the same district. Even the Baltimore Sun came out strongly against it, calling the plan “monstrous.” In the end, Bentley played the ace up her sleeve – her friendship with Governor Schaefer – and Gilchrest wound up running against, and defeating, Democratic Rep. Tom McMillan.

Ten years later, state Democrats pushed a two-pronged attack. First, they moved the Eighth District, then represented by moderate Republican Connie Morella, into Prince George’s County. Then they moved the Second District, then represented by Bob Ehrlich, into parts of Baltimore City, tacking areas of Harford County onto the First District. In other words, they created a district which Ehrlich could likely win again if he opted not to run for governor, but which Democrats would likely pick up if he did. In the end, the Democrats’ machinations were successful, as both districts flipped.

As the latest round of redistricting looms on the horizon, state Republicans hold the same two congressional seats – the First and the Sixth – they did after the 2002 elections. That the Democrats will try to put the squeeze on Republicans again is beyond question. The state’s population has grown and, in terms of voter registration, Democrats have made impressive gains during the past decade, while Republicans steadily lost ground. The only two questions I have: Will the Democrats go for an 8-0 or 7-1 scenario, and, if they choose the latter scenario, who will their immediate target be – Andy Harris or Roscoe Bartlett?

Most of the people I have talked to believe that the Democrats risk destabilizing some of their incumbents if they go after both Bartlett and Harris. I tend to agree. Therefore, I think that they will target one of them for immediate defeat – likely Harris, given his freshman status and the fact that he’s not exactly on Mike Miller’s Christmas card list – while making Bartlett’s district a little more Democratic so that, when he steps down, it is a bit more competitive than it is now.

As for Harris, I have heard numerous scenarios on how the Democrats might redraw the lines of the First District. One possibility is for the upper shore portion of the district to be spliced to the Sixth along with Harford County. The new First could consist of the lower shore, parts of West Baltimore, and even a sliver of Prince George’s County. Some of the portions of Eastern and Central Baltimore County presently represented by Harris could be absorbed by the Second District. Its current congressman, Dutch Ruppersberger, remains well known and popular in that area.

As for the new Sixth, it would span the entire top portion of the state. It seems that the Democrats could  remove slices of solidly GOP areas – for example, they could take a portion of Carroll County and tack it onto Rep. Elijah Cumming’s Seventh District without seriously destabilizing him – to make it more competitive in the future. The district’s changing demographics, especially in Frederick County, which is emerging as a bedroom community for D. C. commuters, facilitate this new competitiveness as well.

Should the Democrats target Bartlett instead of Harris, they could presumably give Harris all of Harford, moving the First District into Northern Baltimore County, while bringing the Sixth farther south into Montgomery County.

So, I think the Democrats will bow to their avaricious instincts as far as redistricting is concerned. Mitigating that greed will be the party’s six incumbents, who will advocate in favor of a conservative approach to redistricting which preserves if not strengthens the Democratic advantage in each district.

That said, I strongly suspect that one of the participants in this politicized game of musical chairs will find himself without a seat once the music has stopped.

4 comments:

  1. I'm not sure I'm politically literate enough to understand the concept of redistricting...

    Is it basically a reshuffling of the areas represented by particular candidates? So you redefine the boundaries of who gets to vote for who? Or what?

    I guess if that is the case it would mean that liberals could rearrange the lines to allow more liberal votes in republican areas, but is it really so dramatic?

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  2. Redistricting means using the most current census data to adjust the lines of existing districts, or to create new districts, accordingly.

    In a political monopoly like Maryland, redistricting gives the majority party an opportunity to confine the minority party's voters in as few districts as possible. The Dems have effectively done that in Maryland. I'm just curious if they are going to cede two districts to the GOP, or just one.

    They have to be careful though...if they get too creative with their gerrymandering, then they could face a court challenge. The Maryland State Court of Appeals tossed out Gov. Glendening's proposed legislative redistricting plan in 2002, and drew its own.

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  3. I actually think they will chase after the 6th. Miller is not stupid and realizes that putting or Prince George's or Baltimore City into the 1st will solidify the Shore strongly behind Harris. Rightfully so I might add.

    Dutch was actually weak on the East Side. IF they gave him some of Harris' old ES precincts then he may actually go from relatively safe to vulnerable. Consider that the Democrat portion of Harford County that he represents just elected a Republican delegate. Good candidate, more red precincts, and another good year and Dutch is in play.

    If you make a play on one it requires 7 or 3 giving up Democrats. Most likely 7 otherwise you risk making Sarbanes vulnerable. Will Elijah Cummings be willing to trade out at least a third of his district or more?

    That's why I think they will just give Harris the solid 6 part bordering PA. They will take 6 down I-270 corridor and absorb mid-Montgomery County.

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  4. Huh, very interesting. Thanks for the explanation.

    All these sorts of "let's work hard to keep ourselves in power" games that politicians play really remind me of the old ruling families in Europe.

    We may have come a long way from monarchy and feudalism, but we still have a ways to go.

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