- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — Black voters and lawmakers said Thursday that a proposed state-level redistricting map provides too few majority-black districts and would lead to continued underrepresentation of minorities in the General Assembly.

The testimony was given during a public hearing held by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, and his appointed redistricting panel, which remapped Maryland’s 47 state Senate districts to account for population changes in the past decade.

The panel submitted the map last week and touted the strides it would make toward improving minority representation by increasing the number of majority-black districts from 10 to 12 and increasing the number of majority-minority districts to 16.

Many speakers at the hearing, however, said the changes aren’t enough, that communities were split to dilute black influence in some cases and that population numbers indicate Maryland should have no fewer than 14 majority-black districts.

“I believe we have a good product,” said Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George’s Democrat. “But I also believe we can do better.”

More than 25 people spoke at the three-hour hearing, which was attended by as many as 100 people in a nearly packed joint legislative hearing room in the building of the Department of Legislative Services.

Most concerns focused on the map’s proposed changes in Prince George’s County and Baltimore.

Many of the speakers argued that the state undercompensated for the growing black population in Prince George’s, left Baltimore vulnerable to losing one of its six senators and did less to protect black communities from split representation than it did for many white communities.

“There is concern that the way that it was done is maybe not the most appropriate,” said Sen. Verna L. Jones-Rodwell, a Baltimore Democrat whose district would be relocated largely to Baltimore County to account for the city’s lost residents.

The relatively calm hearing included few emotional pleas or charges of outright gerrymandering, unlike the discussions in October over the since-approved congressional map.

However, Delegate Tiffany Alston, Prince George’s Democrat, called the inclusion of fewer than 14 black districts — a total proportionate to the 28 percent of voting-age Marylanders who are black — a “slap in the face.”

The Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, a black activist group that is suing the state over the congressional map’s alleged dilution of black voters, said it might file suit against the state-level map if changes aren’t made.

There was little discussion of the map’s effect on partisan politics. But House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell raised questions over whether the panel’s Democratic leaders packed Republican voters into conservative, larger-than-average Eastern Shore districts to prevent their influence from spreading to other parts of the state.

Maryland senatorial districts are not required to have identical populations but must be within 5 percent of the statewide average.

Mr. O’Donnell, Calvert Republican, said GOP lawmakers will propose an alternate map during the assembly’s regular session, which begins Jan. 11.

Mr. O’Malley will propose his own map, which is expected to be largely similar to the panel’s recommendations.

“We are all in this together, and there is no change to one district that does not affect another district,” the governor said. “I will do my best to consider everything that was said today and to present to the General Assembly a plan that is as balanced as possible.”

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