GOP targets redistricting map at borderline

PoliticsRepublican PartyDemocratic PartyJohn SarbanesHavre de GraceC.A. Dutch RuppersbergerPikesville

Working to build on the momentum of their so-far successful drive to challenge the state's congressional redistricting plan at the ballot box, Republican activists held a news conference Thursday at a Baltimore intersection that they called an illustration of the absurdity of the existing map.

For their Exhibit A, state GOP Chairman Alex Mooney and other Republicans chose the corner of Belair Road and Chesterfield Avenue, where three congressional districts converge as part of a Democratic-drawn plan that splits the city among three representatives.

They held their news conference on the northwest corner of the intersection, where they had a sign marking the turf as the 3rd District of Rep. John Sarbanes. Across Chesterfield on the southeast corner was a sign marking the 7th District of Rep. Elijah Cummings. A half block up Belair, on the west sign stood a gray-sided row house with a sign marking it as being in the 2nd District of Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger. All are Democrats whose districts extend into adjoining counties.

"This is where the rubber meets the road --- this block in Baltimore City," said Tony Campbell, president of Marylanders for Coherent and Fair Representation, one of the main backers of the petition drive. He noted that the 2nd extends south to Fort Meade and north to Havre de Grace, while the 7th extends to western Howard County. The 3rd extends takes in the Pikesville area and parts of the city, while dipping down to reach Annapolis.

Republicans succeeded in gathering far more than the minimum number of signatures required by June 1 to keep their drive alive to petition the redistricting plan to a November referendum. Now they are aiming to gain reach a total of 75,000 signatures -- far more than the required 56,000 -- they need by July 1 to force a vote on the map.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and General Assembly leaders drew a map designed to maximize the number of Democrats Maryland could send to the U.S. House. The new map, required each decade to reflect the census count, gives the Democrats a good shot at going from a 6-2 to a 7-1 advantage, but it does so by carving up the state into convoluted shapes in which districts are sometimes strung from jurisdiction to jurisdiction with narrow strips to connect them.

Mooney charged that the resulting map is "absurd" -- especially for Baltimore.

"This community deserves its own congressman," Mooney said. "People are upset all over the state by this map. It's reprehensible."

Some political observers believe benefits from having three congressmen with a stake in the city's future, but the petition backers contend it would be better off with a single representative who would focus on Baltimore's concerns.

Republicans have a powerful incentive for making that argument. Alongside the messy-looking Democratic map they placed a clean, compact GOP alternative -- which Campbell allowed would probably yield three Republican House members.

Campbell said that when voters take a look at the two maps they can't wait to sign the petitions. He said he played poker the previous night and gained 10 signatures from fellow players -- half of them Democrats.

Republicans are confident they'll reach their goal and will win the argument in November -- forcing the General Assembly to go back to the drawing board.

"We'll be over what we need," Campbell said. "The question is the margin."

Campbell said the redistricting has been a challenge compared with other issues Republicans and their allies have petitioned to referendum, including bills permitting same-sex marriage and allowing in-state tuition for children raised in Maryland but without legal immigration status (the DREAM Act).

"It's really inside baseball. The gay marriage and the DREAM Act -- it was almost like an emotional response," he said.

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