- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley is on the horns of dilemma. He has to resolve the philosophical question of whether it is nobler to gerrymander congressional districts to seek partisan advantage or to do so to pander to ethnic politics.

The proposed redistricting map, which is scheduled to go to the state General Assembly on Monday, has come under fire from Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Democrat representing the predominantly black 4th District. The proposed map dilutes the percentage of African-American voters in her district as part of a complex shuffle intended to put more Democratic voters into the 6th District, represented by Republican Roscoe G. Bartlett. The scheme is to reduce Republican seats from two to one. “I cannot support this plan in its current form,” Miss Edwards said, “given that minority representation interests appear to have been sacrificed for these political interests.”

The situation in Maryland shows how desperate Democrats have become to gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Twenty years ago, the party spearheaded a series of redistricting measures in numerous states intended to increase black representation in Congress, as required by the Voting Rights Act. The 101st Congress, elected in 1988, had 25 black members. The 104th Congress, elected in 1994 after the 1990 redistricting was complete, had 44 black members, of whom 41 were Democrats. The current Congress also has 44 black members, 42 of whom are Democrats.

Taking on the responsibility to increase diversity in the House diminished Democratic strength elsewhere in the redistricted states and initially helped Republicans win seats. It was a contributing factor in the Democrats losing control of Congress in 1994 for the first time in 40 years. That effect was not permanent; the Congress elected in 2006 had a record 44 black Democrats in that fleeting majority, which was lost last year.

The controversy isn’t limited to the Old Line State. Redistricting efforts in other states, particularly those losing seats, are posing challenges for about a quarter of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Democrat Laura Richardson, representing California’s 37th District in Los Angeles, is facing strong primary challenges because her new district, redrawn by the independent California Citizens Redistricting Commission, doesn’t have a black majority. She and Miss Edwards are faced with explaining to a more diverse electorate why ethnicity shouldn’t matter. If America really has entered the era of post-racial politics, they will have to figure out ways to attract votes from people outside the black community.

Maryland Democrats seem willing to jettison their commitment to maintaining the diversity of Congress to increase their already dominant partisan advantage in the state delegation. If the proposed map or one very much like it is approved, Mr. O'Malley will have to explain to black voters why he thought partisan interests were more important than their wish to maintain the historic gains made by blacks in Congress over the past 20 years.

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