A bipartisan pair of former lawmakers that lost narrow elections in 2018 have formed a nonprofit group to pressure the General Assembly to accept new legislative and congressional district maps being drafted by a commission created by Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.
Fair Maps Maryland is the brainchild of former Hogan communications strategist Doug Mayer, former Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman (R) and former state Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County). The group will push lawmakers to adopt the maps that will eventually be drawn up by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission.
The commission, a nine-member, multi-partisan panel created by executive order to draw up congressional and legislative maps that Hogan will propose to the General Assembly, is currently conducting public hearings ahead of the release of Census redistricting data later this summer.
The commission is still months away from drawing up maps, but Fair Maps Maryland launched Thursday to support the commission’s work. The group aims to abolish “politically motivated gerrymandering” and push for the full implementation of the commission’s “nonpartisan redistricting plan,” according to a press release.
Mayer will serve as the group’s spokesman, and Kittleman and Brochin will serve as its first two board members. All three men have ties to Hogan: Brochin endorsed the governor in 2018, arguing that challenger Ben Jealous (D) was moving the Democratic party too far to the left; Hogan appointed Kittleman to the Maryland Workers Compensation Commission after he was ousted as county executive by Calvin B. Ball III (D); and Mayer worked in the Hogan administration for years.
And although Mayer departed the Hogan administration in 2018, he has continued to work as a political strategist. He most recently headed up Marylanders for Tax Fairness, a group that opposed the new digital advertising tax and advocated against overriding a Hogan veto of that bill.
The Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission is currently undertaking a round of regional public hearings before untabulated Census redistricting data is released in August. Although the commission’s maps are months away from being drawn, Mayer said he was confident any maps the commission submits will be an improvement over the state’s current configuration.
“An overstimulated toddler could draw fairer maps on the back of a cocktail napkin,” Mayer said.
The group’s Thursday launch was accompanied by a 60-second advertisement entitled “Pop Quiz” that takes aim at Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District, comparing the district’s odd shape to a fighting crab and a broken-winged pterodactyl, borrowing a phrase from a federal judge.
A website for the group also highlights the 3rd Congressional District as “a prime example of gerrymandering and the absurdities it creates.”
The Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission is Hogan’s latest bid to reform the state’s redistricting process. His previous attempts to do so through legislation have been rebuffed by the General Assembly, where Democrats hold a veto-proof majority in both the House of Delegates and Senate. Any maps that Hogan eventually proposes can ultimately be redrawn by the General Assembly.
Hogan’s executive order creating the commission laid out a slew of requirements for proposed districts. The commission’s districts must “respect natural boundaries” and, to the extent practical, keep communities whole. The districts must also be compact and comply with state, federal, judicial and constitutional requirements.
Hogan’s order further bars the commission from taking into account where incumbents and potential candidates live and the political affiliation of residents.
The executive order also requires, to the extent practicable, that the commission draw single-member districts for the House of Delegates.
Maryland is one of only a few states that currently uses both single and multi-member legislative districts — a practice that some residents have opposed during the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission’s first round of public hearings.
The commission has conducted public hearings for the northern, southern and western regions of the state, as well as the Eastern Shore since the beginning of June. Residents who have testified at those public hearings have overwhelmingly urged commission members to keep communities whole in their proposed maps, with single-member legislative districts also being a common request.
Other residents have urged the commission to be flexible and consider using both single multi-member districts.
Some have criticized Hogan’s requirements for what the commission can and cannot consider: At the commission’s public hearing for the northern Maryland region, Maryland Legislative Coalition co-leader Edward Johnson said panelists should “think outside the box” in drawing up proposed maps and consider inviting the General Assembly to participate in the process.
“Unless you invite all stakeholders to participate and give their opinions during meetings of the commission, you are Hogan’s commission and not a bipartisan citizens commission, which should be your intention,” Johnson said.
Information about how Fair Maps Maryland is funded, and exactly how much cash the organization has, was not readily available. Mayer said the group will register as a grassroots lobbying organization in November, at which point more specific funding information will be available. He added that the organization currently has at least “six figures” in financial commitments from Marylanders.
“We’re very confident that we’ll be able to have the resources necessary to make sure Marylanders understand what’s going on with redistricting in Maryland, and why it’s important,” Mayer said.
The nonprofit group RepresentUs found that Maryland and dozens of other states are under “extreme” risk for gerrymandering in a report earlier this year. The Thursday release from Fair Maps Maryland charged that Maryland “is widely regarded as one of the worst offenders in the nation” when it comes to partisan redistricting.
Maryland’s 2012 congressional district map faced multiple court challenges and was addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court three times, ultimately cementing the justices’ stance that it is not the judiciary’s place to settle disputes over partisan gerrymandering in Maryland or other states.
“Gerrymandering not only attempts to silence political opponents, but it also discourages progress and innovation by preventing the free exchange of ideas and deepening political divisions,” Brochin said in the release. “I look forward to being part of Fair Maps Maryland and working hard so that every Marylander, in every corner of our state, can enjoy their right to free and fair elections.”
The group is also pushing for a transparent map-drawing process, that mapmaking was largely done behind closed doors a decade ago.
“Ensuring fair electoral maps for Marylanders isn’t just about good government and serving the public in the present moment — it’s also about safeguarding our democratic processes for the future,” Kittleman said in a statement. “Over time, gerrymandering has eroded voting rights on both sides of the aisle, across our country. As Marylanders, and as Americans, we must stand up for what is right and set an example for the rest of the nation.”
The map-making process is expected to reach fever pitch in late September, when final U.S. Census bureau figures are released. The release of Census data was delayed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayer said Fair Maps Maryland’s board will likely expand, and the group hopes to partner with “like-minded organizations” to raise awareness about the redistricting process.
By Bennett Leckrone
Letters to Editor
Frederick Patt says
I support nonpartisan redistricting and am opposed to gerrymandering, but would hope this issue could be approached with more sophistication than the grade-school sloganeering and hype on this group’s web site.