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Md. House okays congressional redistricting plan

By Brian Witte

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 19 2011 2:46 p.m. MDT

Members of the Maryland House of Delegates organize pizza boxes during a lunch recess during a special session on congressional redistricting in Annapolis, Md., Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011.

Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. —      The Maryland House of Delegates approved Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's congressional redistricting map 91-46 on Wednesday, the third day of a special session to redraw the districts of the state's eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The map, which Republicans decried as gerrymandering to oust a GOP congressman, is identical to a bill already passed by the Senate, except for some minor typographical errors. The Senate will have to approve those small technical changes before the bill goes to the Democratic governor for his signature.

Democrats said the map reflects population growth in the suburbs of the nation's capital and up the Interstate 270 corridor northwest of Washington. Delegate Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, said 70 percent of the state's residents will reside in the same districts as under the current map.

     "It was done very carefully, not willy-nilly," Jones said. "It was done within the letter of the law, within the Voting Rights Act. It was done in consultation with the state attorney general who is the lawyer for the state."

     But Republicans said the map is designed to oust 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in western Maryland. Republicans also said Democrats have put off creating a third majority-minority district to account for growth in the state's minority population in order to try and win another Democratic seat in Congress.

Currently, Maryland Democrats hold a 6-2 advantage over Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"The truth is this is one gerrymandered map — specifically for political purposes — and everybody here is being asked to go ahead and hide the truth, go home and tell people it was for their own good and 10 years from now you'll get what your constitution promises you," said Delegate Michael Smigiel, R-Cecil.

Jones, who chaired the House committee on redistricting, underscored that 12 hearings were held around the state to gather public input, and she said the map reflects that input.

"Furthermore, there's an assumption that because you're a minority — African-American, Asian, Hispanic — that you're going to vote the same way. I can show you proven cases that that is not the case," Jones said.

Five Democrats voted against the map.

Delegate Aisha Braveboy, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, said the map could have done more to better represent minority growth recorded in the 2010 census. Braveboy said the hearings Jones referred to should have been held after residents were able to see O'Malley's official proposal, which was not made public until Saturday night.

"My vote against it will be a symbol that Maryland can and must do better," Braveboy, who represents Prince George's County, said. "We must do better to be more transparent to our constituents."

     Delegate Anthony O'Donnell, the House minority leader, also said Democratic incumbents had too much influence on telling state lawmakers how they wanted their districts drawn.

     "This state is for the citizens of Maryland, not some individuals who are incumbents who want 'vanity districts' drawn for them," O'Donnell, R-Calvert, said.

     The state's congressional districts are being redrawn in response to the 2010 census, which found Washington's suburban Maryland counties had the state's biggest population growth over the past decade. All of the state's population gain resulted from increases in minorities, according to the census.

     Maryland currently has two congressional districts represented by African-Americans. Growth in the state's minority population prompted some, including Republicans, to seek a third majority-minority district in the state. The House rejected a Republican amendment that would have created a third majority-minority district.

Some already have threatened a lawsuit against the plan, and some lawmakers alluded to a lawsuit as almost inevitable during Thursday's House debate.

The debate over minority representation in the map forged an unusual alliance between the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, which is based in heavily Democratic Prince George's County, and Maryland Republicans. A Republican backed plan that would have incorporated the third majority-minority district backed by Fannie Lou, was rejected by the House and Senate in separate amendments.

Radamase Cabrera, a spokesman for Fannie Lou in Maryland, said after Wednesday's vote that the group is working with the GOP to file a federal lawsuit. Cabrera said the map contains two violations of the federal Voting Rights Act by failing to make a third majority-minority district and diluting the black vote.

The Senate is scheduled to convene Thursday to officially send the legislation to O'Malley.

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