Well, the 1st Congressional District has changed, an outcome that Rep. Andy Harris probably expected, though with some despair. Lawsuits, if filed as promised, will very likely not delay implementation of the new map for the 2022 election.
The newly configured district will be a toss-up between Republican Harris and a Democrat, either Heather Mizeur or David Harden or Jennifer Pingkey. Not a slam-dunk for one of the latter, though the northern portion of Harford County and parts of Baltimore and Carroll counties have been deleted in favor of 200,000 new voters in the central part of Anne Arundel County.
Inclusion of parts of Anne Arundel County in the 1st District is not a radical change. When Wayne Gilchrest represented the 1st from 1991 to 2009, the district included parts of Annapolis.
Though now a self-exile in Annapolis after 44 years in Easton, I believe that the newly mapped 1st District is a more democratic (small “d”) than the one represented by Harris for the past 12 years. Frankly, I felt disenfranchised by the presence of an extremist Republican who has suffered no elective punishment for his far-right views and questionable behavior (carrying a gun into the Capitol).
His re-election was assured. His base seemed unbothered by his offensive statements and actions.
His political life now has changed.
Gerrymandering is good or evil in the jaundiced eye of the beholder. The political process of drawing congressional district is inherently unfair to the members of the party relegated to second-class status as citizens. You either suck it up or move to a district that favors your political perspective.
To me, the 2021 version of the 1st Congressional District, to be tested in 2022, is more balanced, enabling Republican and Democratic voters to have a voice. In other words, the newly elected representative will have to cater to partisans in both camps, not just those in his or her political tribe.
If re-elected, Harris will have to travel the middle road, unless he simply will be unable to change his ultra-conservative stripes. In that case, he may have only one additional term to serve. His job tenure will be precarious.
To no one’s surprise, I find nothing to admire about Rep. Harris. I have long hoped that he would return full-time as an anesthesiologist and treat patients far more humanely than he ministered to the residents of the 1st District.
His supporters would bemoan his absence. They would welcome anyone who opposes Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the powerful Speaker of the House who is a prime target of derision and disdain among most Republican members of Congress.
Ironically, the homes of Harris and Harden are not in the altered 1st District. It does not matter. They only must live in the state. But it does seem strange in the context of representative government.
Some believe that gerrymandering—the act of manipulating boundaries favoring one political party over another—is a major cause of our nation’s toxic polarization. They are right. The 1st District exemplified that dysfunction. Harris has occupied a safe seat that has demanded no compromise or second thoughts on his part. The same could be said of the seven other congressional districts represented by Democrats.
It would be ironic if the First District became more balanced than the others, one that values moderation over extremism. It might be a showcase for representative government and democracy.
And I may be dreaming.
Seven states have non-political congressional redistricting commissions. On the surface. They would symbolize good government. I am skeptical, however, about the selection process: are commission members truly independent? Is it possible to escape political pressure?
The every-decade redistricting, originated to reflect population changes, is blatantly political in Maryland. Gov. Larry Hogan appointed a non-partisan commission to draw up a new statewide congressional redistricting map. The Democratic-dominated General Assembly ignored the supposedly un-gerrymandered map. Instead, it designed its own. The governor vetoed it.
The legislature overturned the veto as if it were swatting away a fly. Lawsuits may follow. They likely will have no impact.
While overjoyed at the prospect of a truly competitive race between Andy Harris and his Democratic rival, I cannot overlook the overtly partisan effort to block him from winning re-election as effortlessly as he has for six terms. Gerrymandering can reward or punish.
Unfortunately, the redistricting has no impact on me. Annapolis remains untouched by the 1st District. I will have no chance to offer Rep. Harris a non-political career choice. For what it is worth, I will be a highly interested observer.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.