Local Republicans are crying foul over a proposed congressional redistricting plan that would radically redraw District 6 — currently represented by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett — to include much of Democrat-heavy Montgomery County.
"I think it is very much a gerrymandered map that has been promulgated for very partisan reasons and splits up communities of interest, specifically our Western Maryland constituency, and the sole reason they're doing it is to try to pick up an extra seat for the Democrats," state Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said Friday.
Shank and fellow Washington County Republicans Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., Del. Neil C. Parrott and Del. Andrew A. Serafini said they would oppose the map if the recommended version is introduced during the Maryland General Assembly special session that starts Oct. 17.
Del. John P. Donoghue, Washington County's lone Democrat in Annapolis, did not return two calls seeking comment Friday.
States must draw new congressional districts every 10 years, following each Census, to reflect the latest population counts.
In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley formed the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee, which held public hearings throughout the state and issued a recommended map Oct. 4. O'Malley will consider the committee's recommendations and introduce his own plan to the General Assembly at the start of the special session, Maryland Department of Planning spokesman Andrew Ratner said.
The special session was called so the districts can be approved before the congressional primary in April, Ratner said.
State legislative districts also must be redrawn, but O'Malley will not submit that plan to the General Assembly until the beginning of the regular legislative session in January, Ratner said. There is less of a time crunch for state-level redistricting because the next state election isn't until 2014, he said.
In an outline of its congressional redistricting plan, the governor's advisory committee said its plan builds off the existing districts created in 2002, keeps more than 70 percent of Marylanders in their current congressional district and does not draw any incumbent Congressman out of his or her district.
"Congressional Districts 6 and 8 are drawn to reflect the North-South connections between Montgomery County, the I-270 Corridor, and western portions of the State," the plan outline says.
District 6 currently stretches across most of the northern boundary of the state, including Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick, Carroll, and the northern parts of Baltimore and Harford counties. It includes only a small corner of Montgomery County.
On the committee's map, District 6 would retain Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties, but instead of continuing east, it would follow the Potomac River south, retaining the city of Frederick and part of southern Frederick County and picking up the western half of Montgomery County, including Gaithersburg.
The Middletown and Myersville areas and eastern Frederick County, including Thurmont, would be part of District 8, which also would include the population-dense D.C. suburbs of Rockville and Silver Spring.
Elizabeth Paul, chairwoman of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee, said party analyses she had seen estimated the proposed District 6 would be 51 percent or 53 percent Democratic, giving the party "a little bit more of a fighting chance."
"Certainly, we would be thrilled to have some good, strong Democratic candidates in the race and have a little bit better shot at actually winning the race than the current District 6 allows us," she said.
State Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, a Democrat from Montgomery County, has said he is considering challenging Bartlett for his seat and confirmed Friday he is "definitely interested in looking at" a congressional bid if the districts are redrawn as recommended.
"I've made several trips to Frederick County, Washington County, Hagerstown, Cumberland and other parts of Western Maryland as well, meeting with people and hearing what their concerns are," Garagiola said. "One of the things I'm hearing is there's clearly a want and a desire for new representation in Congress."
Bartlett is serving his 10th term.
Bartlett issued a statement Thursday night saying he had "a very cordial meeting" with O'Malley.
"At a time of the lowest approval rating of Congress in our history, I told Governor O'Malley that I want to help him strengthen the confidence and trust of Marylanders in Maryland's delegation in the United States Congress with a redistricting map that respects and accurately reflects the 45% of Marylanders who are minorities as well as residents in rural areas," Bartlett said. "Using commonly available tools, a revised map could easily include three majority minority districts, two with African American majorities and one a mixed African American Hispanic minority opportunity district as well as districts that respect our rural communities."
Bartlett declined to elaborate on details of his suggested map, but the Maryland GOP has posted a suggested map online in which district borders conform closely with county lines. The GOP map draws District 6 to include Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick and Carroll counties and the northern half of Baltimore County.
Districts on the GOP map are "contiguous, compact and they represent the various communities of interest," Shank said.
Shank said Western Maryland Republicans' best chances at influencing the final map will come if they join forces with the Legislative Black Caucus, which opposes the way the proposed map would divide up racial minority areas.
"If you look at the (committee) map that has been presented so far, some of these (districts) look like a Rorschach test," Shank said. "They are so torturously drawn to incorporate certain areas, but exclude other areas."
Myers pointed to the way the proposed District 6 juts out to include the heavily-Democratic city of Frederick, yet cuts out much of the rest of Frederick County, as one example of evidence that the outlines were politically motivated.
"It just zig-zags and goes every which way around," Myers said of the committee's map.
Washington County Republican Central Committee Chairman Randy Buchman called the map "blatantly partisan."
"Though I suppose Democrats in Republican-dominated states are howling, this Maryland map of congressional districts looks like a tie-dyed shirt, and could stand as exhibit 'A' next to the word 'gerrymandering' in the dictionary," Buchman wrote in an email Thursday.
Republican critics of the map argued against the logic that Interstate 270 and the Potomac River tie the interests of western Montgomery County to those in Frederick and Washington counties.
"This is a rural area," Parrott said. "We have a lot of farms, small towns. There's not a lot in common here with the big-city environment in Montgomery County, and also the values are very different."
"I find it hard to understand how you're going to get someone who can relate to Western Maryland as well as Montgomery County," Myers said.
Paul disagreed, pointing out that Montgomery County does have some agricultural areas.
Garagiola said before the 1990 redistricting, District 6 included a lot more of Montgomery County and had done so for decades.
"I think there's a lot more in common with northern and western Montgomery County and Frederick County and Washington County and even further west than there is with Harford or Baltimore County," he said.
Garagiola said he already has proven he can represent a diverse district that includes rural areas and small towns such as Barnesville and Poolesville.
"If I do decide to move forward with this, it's going to be the same kind of approach with respect to Western Maryland," he said.
Maryland is accepting public comments on the committee plan through Tuesday. Comments may be sent by email (Redistricting2011@mdp.state.md.us), by hard copy (Redistricting 2011, Maryland Department of Planning, 11th Floor, 301 W. Preston St., Baltimore, MD 21201, ATTN: Linda Janey) or submitted online.
On the web
- To view the current and recommended districts on an interactive online map at the Maryland Department of Planning website, go to http://mdpgis.mdp.state.md.us/MarylandRedistricting
- To comment on the recommended redistricting plan, go to http://planning.maryland.gov/Redistricting/2010/publicCommentsCongDraft.shtml
- To view the Maryland GOP's suggested alternative map, go to http://fairlinesmd.org/our-map