I don’t imagine that many regular readers of this site would be shocked to hear someone complaining about the Democratic Party in Maryland. I could put dozens of issues on the wall and toss a dart at them to find something to criticize. But when the carping is coming from the Washington Post editorial board you really have to sit up and take notice. They’re focusing on the question of gerrymandering congressional district lines this week and it’s the Democrats, not Governor Larry Hogan and the Republicans, who are under the microscope.
WITH TWO weeks remaining in Maryland’s three-month legislative session, Democratic lawmakers in Annapolis have stopped just short of extending a Bronx cheer to Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposal for nonpartisan redistricting reform.
Never mind that the plan from Mr. Hogan, a Republican, is enormously popular with state residents. It foresees a constitutional amendment that would shift control of the redistricting process from self-interested elected lawmakers, who treat it exclusively as an incumbent-protection racket. In its place would be established an independent, nine-member panel that would draw district voting maps without regard to voting history or partisan leanings.
As the Post goes on to point out, the redistricting plan isn’t some wild and woolly scheme which the public is crying out to defeat. Current polling in the state shows that a non-partisan redistricting mechanism enjoys broad support across all demographic and party lines. As usual, the only culprits who are fighting it tooth and claw are the establishment Democrats who have used gerrymandering to great effect in maximizing their control of the political process. This is not a Democrat problem to be sure, since Republicans do the exact same thing in Red states. If anything, it would be even harder to get the GOP to go along with such an idea on a national level since we currently control the state legislatures in a significant majority of places.
That leads us to the big picture problem when it comes to gerrymandering. How on Earth are we supposed to solve an obvious problem on a national level when neither party’s leadership wants it fixed? How do you convince the people making the rules to change the system when it’s worked so heavily to their advantage for so long? This question has made it up to the Supreme Court level a number of times, including one high profile case in Arizona last year which we covered here, but all of the suits they process only nibble at the edges. The Court is never actually asked to rule on the question of gerrymandering in general, but simply to analyze one particular set of bizarre, twisted district maps and decide if they crossed the line in being too obviously unfair with their maps. That’s never going to solve anything.
Unfortunately, even on the state level we’re not going to make much progress if we adopt a “non-partisan” board such as the one proposed in Maryland. Where are you going to find these allegedly non-partisan experts to do the work of drawing district lines without having even a smidgen of political interest or bias? I assume these same paragons of the community will also be 100% immune to corruption and influence from party leaders who would like to whisper in their ears? We have it within our technological capacity already to feed population mapping data into a computer program and spit out standardized districts which are as compact and contiguous as the geography allows and simply let the chips fall where they may. Getting anyone in power to agree to the idea is another question entirely.