- The Washington Times - Monday, October 17, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — The General Assembly gave preliminary approval Monday night to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed congressional map, despite criticism by Republicans, some minorities and a Capitol Hill Democrat.

The Democrat-controlled Senate voted 24-12 in favor of Mr. O’Malley’s plan on the first day of a special redistricting session. The chamber is expected to give final approval Tuesday before sending the bill to the House.

“The map is balanced,” said Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat. “We are a state with some tremendously strong diversity and many strong communities. There is no voting-rights requirement that they all be packed into one district any more than there is a requirement that all nonminority people be packed into one district.”

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The governor also said he would use the special session to gather support for a jobs package and to increase infrastructure spending in January’s regular session.

The governor specifically denied allegations the map would unfairly redraw Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett’s 6th District to Democrats’ advantage and reduce minority voting power by splitting up their districts.

“It is possible to meet both our concerns of minority representation interests in Montgomery County and also to satisfy whatever broader political interests there are,” Rep. Donna F. Edwards said before a joint House-Senate committee. “We will not have a perfect map by any stretch, but we should come as close to perfect … as we can.”

Miss Edwards, who is black, is the only member of the state’s Democratic congressional caucus to publicly criticize the governor’s map.

She said the map disenfranchises Montgomery County minorities because it takes them from her 4th District, now composed of sections of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, and replaces them with voters from a section of more conservative Anne Arundel County.

Miss Edwards, who is seeking a second full term, said such a change effectively would eliminate the possibility of Montgomery County electing another minority representative until perhaps the next redistricting, which follows every 10-year census.

She presented her own proposed map of the state’s eight congressional districts that would restore her presence in the eastern part of Montgomery and make her one of four congressional representatives to represent the county. The Maryland congressional delegation now has six Democrats and two Republicans, including Mr. Bartlett, who is seeking an 11th term.

Several Montgomery Democrats in the assembly spoke in support of Mr. O’Malley’s map, saying the county doesn’t need a predominantly minority district to elect a minority representative and that Miss Edwards‘ map would reduce the nonblack minority population within her district.

Republicans are criticizing the governor’s proposed map, which is based largely on the one recommended to him by the five-member advisory committee, for too drastically changing the 85-year-old Mr. Bartlett’s Western Maryland district. The map adds the predominantly liberal western half of Montgomery County while eliminating more conservative sections of Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick and Harford counties.

“The governor submitted a very flawed plan,” said state Sen. Edward J. Pipkin, Cecil Republican. “We’ll use this process to point that out.”

Mr. O’Malley said he and leading Democrats also would use the session to begin working toward legislation for next year’s session that would increase state spending on transit projects, new schools and other infrastructure to create construction and post-construction jobs.

The assembly likely will face a $1 billion budget deficit next year. The governor said the state’s financial woes are due more to an “investment deficit” than overspending and that infrastructure improvements will create direct and indirect jobs and revenue for the state.

Mr. O’Malley also said he is considering a proposal by a state-appointed commission to raise the state’s gas tax from 23.5 to 38.5 cents a gallon, to help generate $800 million for transit projects and improvements. In addition, the governor issued an executive order Monday requiring state agencies to review their regulation policies, in hopes they might be able to eliminate redundancies and streamline processes to help businesses.

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