The Maryland General Assembly approved a new congressional redistricting plan this week that radically reshapes the political landscape in the Free State.
The goal of the plan was to make the 6th Congressional District, currently held by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, competitive enough for a Democrat to win in the November 2012 elections. That goal was accomplished by shifting large Republican-dominated areas of Frederick and Carroll Counties out of the 6th and picking up new Democratic-majority areas in western Montgomery County. The result is a new District that runs all the way from the Capital Beltway to the far western reaches of Garrett County, in a district where Democrats now have a fighting chance.
Major changes were also made to Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s 8th District, which now reaches all the way from Bethesda, up through Frederick County, and all the way to the Pennsylvania line. Donna Edwards’ 4th District is also radically reconfigured and no longer includes any part of Montgomery County. District 3 now weaves back and forth like a drunken snake, winding down from inner-city Baltimore, down through the Olney area, then back out to the east all the way to the Chesapeake Bay. When you look at the new landscape, Districts 2, 3, 4 and 7 now resemble a jumbled pile of Rorschach ink blots. There is no semblance of compactness or consistency with existing local political boundaries, two of the old standards we used to think mattered.
The reason for all this is quite simple. On the national level, Democrats only have a few chances to pick up seats currently held by Republicans and this is one of them. The stakes are so high in 2012, with control of the U.S. House of Representatives hanging in the balance, that both parties are using this year’s redistricting process to maximize their chances every way they can. The only exception is those states that use non-partisan redistricting commissions to draw their congressional lines after each census. For the rest of us, redistricting is and always has been a totally and completely partisan process. That may not be the world as it should be, but it is the way it is.
The results for us in Montgomery County will be profound. Montgomery County’s minority votes will now be splintered into several different districts, none of which will be majority-minority. For this reason, the whole issue may end up in court. Many other communities have been split off from their neighbors and combined in bizarre new ways. If you live in Olney, you will now more than likely be represented by a congressman from Baltimore. Most of Maryland’s congressional incumbents now represent whole new communities they know little about, and that know little about them.
The big gamble here is whether the Democrats can defeat Roscoe Bartlett in this newly competitive 6th District. If so, Gov. Martin O’Malley and other state party leaders would argue that all the disruption was worth it. That may be, but however things turn out, Maryland politics will never be the same.