- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday he will form a bipartisan commission to explore reforming Maryland’s legislative redistricting process.

Hogan said his goal is to give the authority of redrawing the state’s legislative districts to an independent, bipartisan commission.

Currently, the shaping of legislative districts every 10 years in Maryland is largely in the hands of the governor, who submits a proposed map to the Legislature, which votes on it. Critics say Maryland has some of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the country. Gerrymandering is the process in which state officials draw congressional districts to benefit their party.

“This is not a distinction that we should be proud of,” Hogan said near the end of his first State of the State speech.

Hogan said he would form a commission by executive order to explore reforms.

Maryland’s legislative redistricting process has come under scrutiny in recent years. Opponents of the current map that was approved in 2011 gathered enough signatures to put the boundaries on the ballot for a statewide vote. The map was approved by voters in 2012.

Maryland’s 2011 redistricting process added a big chunk of Democrat-heavy Montgomery County to what had been a Republican stronghold in western Maryland. With a Democratic governor and Democrats holding strong majorities in the Legislature, there wasn’t much to get in the way of moving about 300,000 Montgomery County voters into the western Maryland district. The result: 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett was defeated in 2012. That gave Democrats a 7-1 edge over Republicans in the Maryland congressional delegation.

Government watchdog groups have called for reforms. Critics held a 225-mile relay, dubbed the Gerrymander Meander, through the state’s 3rd congressional district last year to call attention to its odd shape. A federal judge once described the same district as looking like “a broken-winged pterodactyl lying prostrate across the state.”

“We agree with the governor that people feel a real disconnect between Annapolis and the rest of Maryland, and we believe that special interest influence in elections and a broken redistricting process are fueling that divide,” Common Cause Maryland, a government watchdog group, said in a statement reacting to the governor’s proposal.

Del. Nic Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, described Maryland’s current redistricting process as “an embarrassment in the nation.”

“We’re going to work with the governor to find a way to make sure the redistricting process in Maryland is reformed, so that voters really have a choice when they show up on Election Day and they’re not in a situation where only one party can prevail,” Kipke said.

Sen. Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, questioned how the commission that would create the map would be formed.

“If that’s done in a very non-partisan way, that’s fine,” Middleton said. “But, you know, to set up a commission that you’re going to give this control, who appoints this commission? That becomes a political process in itself.”

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