Rep. Donna F. Edwards has become the first Democrat in Maryland's congressional delegation to publicly criticize a proposed redistricting map, saying the process is "deeply flawed" and party leaders at the highest level are slighting minority voters by splitting their districts.
"We have a Democratic governor and a Democratic General Assembly," Ms. Edwards, who is seeking a second full term in 2012, said Tuesday. "Democrats are not in the business of diluting the minority vote."
Ms. Edwards is concerned about how a panel appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, redrew the 5th District and her 4th District, which covers central Prince George's County and eastern Montgomery County.
She said the map, based on 2010 census figures, decreases the black vote by nearly 2 percent in the 4th district and by more than 1 percent in the 5th district while the number of black voters increased in Montgomery, Prince George's and Charles counties. Ms. Edwards thinks the map splits districts in such a way that voters might not be able to elect a minority member of Congress.
Democratic state lawmakers and County Council members from Montgomery County joined church leaders Tuesday in opposing the plan at a rally in Rockville. They said Hispanics and other minorities also would lose their vote.
Ms. Edwards said she fears the map comes perilously close to undermining laws on minority voting set forth by the courts roughly 20 years ago.
That Ms. Edwards has been critical of the map has been one of Capitol Hill's biggest open secrets.
She said she went public with her concerns after hearing from voters and having less-than-successful talks with those involved in the process, including the governor, with whom she spoke Monday.
"I've heard from a lot of really upset people," Ms. Edwards said. "They're stopping me in the grocery store."
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George's Democrat, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, are on the map advisory panel.
Mr. O'Malley has said he does not plan to make significant changes to the map before the start of a special General Assembly on Monday that will focus on redistricting.
Still, Ms. Edwards, who is black, said she is "confident" Mr. O'Malley can make changes to the map to address her concerns "and still achieve all of the desired goals."
Members of the state's Legislative Black Caucus and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People lobbied this past summer to maintain or increase the black presence in Ms. Edwards' district and the 7th District represented by Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings.
Ms. Edwards downplayed reports about her and Maryland GOP Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett recently huddling over the map in House chambers.
Mr. Bartlett, who is seeking an 11th term, said he met privately with Mr. O'Malley to express his concern about the majority-minority districts after the release of the new map, which includes more of Democrat-leaning Montgomery County in his 6th District.
"First of all, I'm a Democrat," Ms. Edwards said. "We might seem to have the same goals but they're completely different. I assure you that."
Maryland's congressional delegation is composed of six Democrats and two Republicans. The other GOP congressman is Rep. Andy Harris, who represents the 1st District.
The new map removes a section of upper Montgomery County in Ms. Edwards' district and replaces it with part of Anne Arundel County.
Ms. Edwards dismissed speculation that her bigger concern was that the map could put her re-election efforts in jeopardy.
"I fully expect a primary opponent," she said. "That's not what this is about."
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