According to reports this weekend in both the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, the process of redistricting for U.S. House seats in Maryland does not look promising for Republicans. But that should come as no surprise to anyone who is following the process that commences every 10 years after the U.S. census: Democrats control the governorship in the Free State as well as both houses of its state legislature, so it is only natural that—as they did in Illinois and California where similar political rule exists—the Democrats would use their clout to perform vivisection on Republican-held House districts.
But as for Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and his fellow Democrats who oversee the state senate and House of Delegates having an impact that could lead to their party’s recapturing of the U.S. House of Representatives next year, that’s a long shot—a very long one.
With their big gains in governorships and control of state legislatures in the 2010 elections, Republicans control the redistricting process in far more states than Democrats do. As the Post reported, “Republicans control redistricting in 202 congressional districts to 47 for Democrats; the rest are governed by independent or bipartisan groups … ”
In Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan—so far—the Republican-ruled legislative process has led to situations in which one Democratic House member is thrown into the district of another. In Indiana, Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Republican-controlled House and Senate made the Hoosier State’s 2nd District (Terre Haute) Republican enough that two-term Rep. and narrowly ’10 winner Joe Donnelly opted for a Senate race. In Texas, the still-unfinished redistricting process seems likely to yield at least two (and perhaps three) brand-new Republican districts.
Sure, Illinois and California look bad for Republicans—although the redistricting plans in the former are being challenged in court, and in the latter, they may be upended by a new statewide initiative that puts redistricting in the hands of a special master appointed by the state supreme court.
In Maryland, it seems a safe conclusion that conservative Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett—at 85, a 20-year-veteran of the House—will get major swatches of new voters from liberal Montgomery County placed in his western Maryland 6th District. State Senate Majority Leader Robert Garagiola is considered the likely Democrat candidate against Bartlett.
The state’s other Republican House member, freshman Rep. Andy Harris, could find himself in a difficult rematch with former Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil if their 1st District (Eastern Shore) gets a major influx of African-American voters from neighboring Prince Georges County.
But if a plan is enacted that endangers Bartlett as well as Harris, the Post reports, “the governor would have to significantly redraw not only the two Republican districts but also every congressional line in the state.” That means that Rep. John Sarbanes, son of former Sen. Paul Sarbanes, would find himself in a district that is only 37% of his present 3rdDistrict, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, would be running in a district that is only half of his present one.
So there are risks in redistricting.
Will the Democratic powers in Maryland make political life a bit harder for the state’s two Republican congressmen? Probably. Is it pivotal to Republicans retaining control of the House? Probably not.