The Maryland General Assembly has launched its own commission to draw new congressional and legislative district maps.
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) announced the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission and its members in a Thursday press release.
The bipartisan commission will be chaired by Karl Aro, the former executive director of the non-partisan Department of Legislative Services. Ferguson and Jones will also sit on the commission, alongside four other lawmakers:
- Senate President Pro Tempore Melony Griffith (D-Prince George’s County);
- House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery County);
- Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel County); and
- House Minority Leader Jason Buckel (R-Allegany County).
Commission members will “focus on developing new map configurations to best account for Maryland’s seven percent population growth,” according to the release.
Jones and Ferguson pledged a bipartisan and transparent redistricting process in Thursday’s release. The commission will hold 10 in-person town hall meetings across the state and two virtual meetings beginning in August. Those meetings will be live-streamed, according to the release.
Jones said in the release that the commission’s goal will be to “ensure that Maryland’s representation reflects its citizens.”
“The General Assembly will pass fair maps based on the robust public engagement and feedback of this Commission,” Jones said.
Ferguson said public input will be a virtual part of the commission’s work.
“We believe it is critical to hear from those we represent, and the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission serves as the General Assembly’s vehicle to hear from Marylanders across the State in a bipartisan and transparent manner before proposing maps for the Legislature to consider,” Ferguson said in a written statement. “The Commission is an essential step in the redistricting process to ensure fair representation for Maryland’s democracy.”
The commission’s formation comes as the multi-partisan Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission — formed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) earlier this year to draw up maps he will propose to the General Assembly — is already conducting a round of public hearings ahead of the release of Census redistricting data.
That nine-member commission, made up of three Republicans, three Democrats and three non-affiliated voters, has held hearings for the Baltimore City and Harford and Anne Arundel Counties, the Eastern Shore and the western, northern and southern regions of the state. During those hearings, residents have repeatedly urged commission members to keep communities whole in proposed maps.
“Governor Hogan has handed over his power to a citizens advisory commission to ensure it’s the people of Maryland who are drawing the maps — not politicians or party bosses in back rooms. The citizens commission has already held several public meetings across the state, gaining direct input from Marylanders,” Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said Thursday evening.
Former Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman (R) and former state Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) – who recently formed the group Fair Maps Maryland alongside former Hogan communications strategist Doug Mayer to urge the General Assembly to adopt maps from the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, criticized the formation of the legislative commission in a Thursday statement.
“This is real simple – politicians shouldn’t be drawing their own districts and picking their own voters, and unfortunately this new commission does exactly that,” the pair said.
Joanne Antoine, the executive director of the fair elections group Common Cause Maryland, said she would’ve liked to see members of the public on the legislative commission, but added that she was encouraged by the General Assembly’s move to hold public hearings.
“I think this is a great opportunity for Marylanders to not only provide input on their communities, but more importantly highlight how the General Assembly has failed them to some extent,” Antoine said.
Antoine had hosted a virtual Tame the Gerrymander event to promote public participation in the redistricting process just before the legislative commission was announced. Tame the Gerrymander — a coalition of advocacy organizations pushing for fair maps in Maryland — is currently mounting a campaign to get the public involved in the process.
At that event, advocates stressed that public input will be key in the state’s redistricting process, and urged Marylanders to participate. Fred McBride, a redistricting and voting rights policy specialist for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, encouraged residents to use free mapping tools like Districr to draw up their own maps and come up with concrete suggestions.
“It’s no longer something we have to sit back and watch and wait for,” McBride said, “It’s something we should be participating in.”
Antoine said in an interview that the dueling commissions may confuse residents, and said she thinks the work of both commissions will be important in the coming months.
“Ultimately the decision is in the hands of the lawmakers,” Antoine said. “The work of the (Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission) is important, and the feedback they’re collecting is just as important too, but I think the members of the General Assembly need to hear from the public.”
The maps the Citizens Redistricting Commission draws up and Hogan proposes will ultimately be subject to approval from the General Assembly, where Democrats hold a veto-proof majority in both the House of Delegates and the Senate.
Exactly what the maps drawn up by either commission will look like remains to be seen, although Hogan laid out several requirements for maps in his executive order creating the commission, including incorporating single-member districts into their proposed maps to the extent possible.
By Bennett Leckrone
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