Josh Kurtz: Redistricting, By the Numbers and in Black and White

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Say this for the proposed new legislative map: It’s compact and -- dare we say it -- gerrymandering appears to have been kept to a minimum. If you’re a Republican in Anne Arundel County or Western Maryland, you may not be all that happy. But in all, voters may actually get a legislature that looks a lot like Maryland.

And say this for the people who run the state: They don’t want you to know about it and they’re not interested in your input.

First, the good news. The legislative map drawn after the 1990 Census featured 18 crossings -- meaning districts spilled over jurisdiction lines 18 times. Mostly, this was the result of William Donald Schaefer’s desire to stem the losses in Baltimore City’s legislative delegation.

Thus, several of the city’s legislative districts crossed over into Baltimore County. All of a sudden, you had several lawmakers associated exclusively with Baltimore County -- think Tommy Bromwell, the original Mr. Dundalk himself -- representing pieces of the city.

The Maryland Court of Appeals rejected legal challenges to the Schaefer plan. But it did admonish future mapmakers: 18 crossings, the judges said, is dangerously high.

So what did Parris Glendening do a decade later? Submit a map with 22 crossings -- partly to keep the city-county alliance intact in Baltimore, partly for partisan gain, and partly to reward old friends and punish enemies. The appeals court didn’t buy it, and drew its own considerably more compact map with 14 crossings. The judges also indicated that they’d look askance on all future attempts to have districts where the city and county overlap.

This map, submitted by Martin O’Malley with the blessing of legislative leaders, has just 13 crossings -- a promising start.

Some other numbers are trickier. The about-to-expire legislative map had 10 districts with a majority African-American population, and leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus were seeking 14 or even 15. The O’Malley map has a dozen, a decent compromise.

But two of these districts currently have white senators: Paul Pinsky and Doug J.J. Peters in Prince George’s County. And a third Prince George’s district has a Latino senator, Victor Ramirez. Will voters in any of these three districts be inclined to fire their incumbents? Are there African-American politicians willing to take them on? Ramirez, remember, unseated David Harrington, who is black, in the 2010 Democratic primary.

Four more districts will be majority-minority, all with white Senate incumbents at present: District 20 in Montgomery County (Jamie Raskin), District 21 in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties (Jim Rosapepe), District 28 in Charles County (Mac Middleton) and District 39 in Montgomery (Nancy King). What are the prospects for minority advancement in these districts?

Raskin may run for attorney general in 2014 -- though the leading potential candidates to replace him, Dels. Tom Hucker and Heather Mizeur, are white. Rosapepe will run for comptroller in 2014 if that job becomes vacant. The House members from his district include Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, who is Hispanic. But another delegate, Ben Barnes, who is white, may be better situated to run for Senate. King came close to losing the 2010 Democratic primary to then-Del. Saqib Ali, who may be spoiling for a rematch. No matter what, it’s a volatile district, and the demographic shifts are palpable.

Middleton’s district is the most fascinating to contemplate -- further proof that this isn’t your father’s Southern Maryland. It would surprise no one if Del. C.T. Wilson, who is black, runs for Senate whenever Middleton decides he’s had enough. But Middleton is too popular a figure, and too well known, to be ousted. And there are still a few good ol’ boys left in Charles County.

Speaking of Charles County -- and good ol’ boys -- Mike Miller will have a piece of the county in his district once again. It’s not unreasonable to ask whether the Senate president’s continued presence in Annapolis -- and his insistence that he retain a healthy portion of Prince George’s County in his district -- is impeding minority advancement. We may never know until he’s actually ready to retire. But he’s just as wily and vigorous as ever, and showing no signs of growing weary of the arena.

And speaking of presiding officers, House Speaker Mike Busch appears to have secured his own re-election by chopping the 30th legislative district in two, moving the heaviest concentration of Republicans into the sub district where he does not live. ESPN Radio has “Mike and Mike in the Morning.” It’s now very likely that Annapolis will have Mike and Mike in the 2000 and aughts, teens and ‘20s.

Up in Baltimore, Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell has seen two-thirds of her district vanish into thin air. But it probably could have been even worse, considering how unpopular she is with many of her colleagues. She no doubt has to wonder and worry what political threats lie ahead.

If there has been much grumbling over the proposed legislative map, you’d never know it. Maybe because so few people are even aware of it, given that it was released, with little fanfare, on Friday night. Although a couple of items about redistricting have appeared on its website, The Washington Post, incredibly, has yet to run an article about the new map in its print edition (the state of political coverage in Maryland is a topic for another day).

To add to the outrage, O’Malley has chosen to hold a hearing about the proposed map in Annapolis on Thursday -- two days before Christmas Eve and the second day of Hanukkah, when just about everyone in the world will have their minds on something else. This may be about the future representation of 5,773,552 Marylanders. But chances are, very few will notice.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Living in Infamy

Holiday Green and Anthony Brown

All I Want for Christmas Is Bob Ehrlich’s Book (Plus: A Meditation on Tom Perez)

Road to Nowhere

Hoyer on Currie: ‘The system works’

Why Glenn Ivey Will Win — And Why He Won’t

Around the Horn: Maryland Register, IRV, Uly Currie

Oh Donna (and Valerie)

Bartlett Pared
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.