The Maryland Senate approved Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's congressional redistricting plan on a 33-13 vote on Tuesday, as Democrats argued the new map protects the state's interests while Republicans contended it favors party politics over residents.
All 12 of the Senate's Republicans voted against plan, and all but one Democrat voted for the legislation, which now goes to the House of Delegates. Supporters of the plan said the congressional map for the next 10 years reflects changing demographics in the suburbs of the nation's capital and up the Interstate 270 corridor.
Sen. Catherine Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, said the caucus initially set out to protect two African-American districts, which the plan does. Pugh, who voted for the map, also noted that the black caucus was engaged in the redistricting process for more than a year, and a third majority-minority district could develop in the future in the 5th Congressional district in southern Maryland.
“We hired consultants. We put forth maps, and none of those maps showed a third African-American district, but what we did ask for was not to diminish Charles County, because we see the opportunity for a third African-American district there,” Pugh said.
Republicans criticized the governor's plan as a gerrymandered map designed to give a Democrat a much better chance to defeat Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, who holds the 6th Congressional district seat in western Maryland. The GOP also attacked the plan for separating communities of interest, and forcing people from the suburbs into a district that has been traditionally rural.
“The only reason this was done was to attempt to elect a Democrat from the sixth district. It may or may not work, Mr. President,” Sen. George Edwards, R-Garrett, said, addressing to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat who was on the redistricting advisory panel. “It may or may not work, because there is a lot of difference in the thinking.”
The state's delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives includes six Democrats and two Republicans.
Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, said she supported the map because it would keep experienced lawmakers in office during difficult times.
“We need some seasoned leaders who have shown at least in Maryland that they're able to work together even if the entire Congress has not lived up to that ideal,” Kelley said.
But Sen. C. Anthony Muse, the only Democrat to vote against the map, said he could not support the plan because it doesn't reflect the best interests of his constituents. Muse said lawmakers have been told the map is beneficial to the Democratic Party, but he said he thinks the plan puts the good of the party over the good of the people.
“In fact, I believe it pits the party against the people -- against a minority population that has down through the decades been the party's most loyal supporters, and yet we stand at this moment in history determined to reward that loyalty by diluting their political power, weakening their voices and shrinking their districts,” Muse said.
Republican Sen. Christopher Shank, of Washington County, said he could not see how the plan benefits western Maryland.
“Others have spoken about the seniority and other things along those lines, but let there be no doubt: this is a gerrymandered map to fulfill a national political goal and I can't support that,” Shank said.