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Residents: Avoid Repeat of 2001 Redistricting

Gerrymandering must stop, residents said at a state redistricting panel hearing.

Some Rockville and Gaithersburg constituents may lose Christopher Van Hollen Jr. as their congressman when district lines are redrawn.

The Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee, a group charged with recommending new legislative district lines based in part on community input, held a hearing at the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville on Wednesday night. The hearing, the panel's only in Montgomery County, drew a small crowd with a clear message.

“Stop gerrymandering our districts,” resident after resident testified, urging against the practice of carving out a political advantage by drawing election districts to benefit one party or protect incumbents by marginalizing the opposition.

Much of the testimony called for avoiding a repeat of 2001, when legislative district lines were redrawn to seemingly benefit the political party in charge, the Democrats.

“If you come up with districts that look like the current ones, I’m going to join financially in any effort to fight it, including legally,” said Colin Alter, a Rockville residents and life-long Democrat. ”A prior administration was more interested in preserving the seats of the incumbents than in providing community representation. … We now live in a district where the incumbent appears guaranteed long-term employment regardless of performance.”

In order to elect members to the state Senate, the House of Delegates and the U.S. Congress, the state and federal constitutions require that legislative districts be redrawn every 10 years based on the latest Census data.

Montgomery County has eight state legislative districts, each with one senator and three delegates. All 32 members of the Montgomery County delegation are Democrats. The county's two largest Congressional districts also are held by Democrats, with District 8 held by Van Hollen of Kensington and District 4 held by Donna F. Edwards of Fort Washington, in Prince George's County.

There is potential for Van Hollen’s district to be redrawn, which could place some of his Gaithersburg and Rockville constituents into the 6th congressional district, The Washington Post recently reported. Ten-term Republican Roscoe G. Bartlett of Buckeystown, in Frederick County, holds the 6th district seat. The 6th District includes a small part of upper Montgomery County, including Damascus, and is reportedly viewed by some Democrats as the most vulnerable of Maryland’s two Republican-held congressional seats. Moving more Democrats to the 6th district could give Democrats a seventh congressional seat. Maryland currently has eight seats in Congress.

“If they leave it the way it is, Democrats will never win that [District 6] seat,” said James J. King, a former state delegate from Anne Arundel County and the only Republican on the redistricting committee. “If I were in their shoes, I would do the same thing.”

Edwards' district, which was redrawn in 2001, stretches from Fort Washington and Upper Marlboro in Prince George's County to Clarksburg in upper Montgomery County. One resident called the 4th congressional district lines unfair and “blatantly political.”

“The current district allocation serves only the political class at the expense of its citizens,” said Don O’Neill, of Montgomery Village. “This has resulted in extreme gerrymandering that is blind to existing traditional boundaries and splits regional interests.”

Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, who represents constituents from Wheaton to Chevy Chase in the General Assembly, also had concerns about how lines would be redrawn. Hispanic constituents are spread out among too many districts, she said, urging the panel to address a “lack of representation” for the growing demographic. Since the 2000 census, the Hispanic population has grown 64 percent in Montgomery and 107 percent in the state, said Gutierrez (D-Dist. 18) of Chevy Chase.

“Maryland’s population grew by about 477,000 between 2000 and 2010. More than half of the state’s population growth resulted from increases in the Hispanic population. I urge the governor’s advisory committee to establish a special expert work group to focus on Maryland’s Hispanic populations,” she said.

The five-member redistricting committee is appointed by the governor. The panel will hold 12 public hearings across the state before recommending a final redistricting draft to the governor, who will in turn send his final plan to the state legislature for approval.

With the 2012 general election fast approaching, the state legislature will vote on new congressional district maps in October when the general assembly convenes for a special session. State legislative districts will be voted on during the regular 2012 legislative session, which begins January 11. The new legislative district map will be in place in time for the 2014 statewide elections.

For more information on the redistricting process, visit the Maryland Department of Planning's website.  

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