- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — The new Maryland congressional map recommended by a governor-appointed panel would give Democrats a strong chance of unseating Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett and extending their political advantage in the state, observers said Tuesday.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s five-member advisory committee late Monday night unveiled the map that would remove conservative sections of Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick and Harford counties from Mr. Bartlett’s Western Maryland 6th Congressional District — replacing them with the more Democratic western half of Montgomery County. (Click here to view PDF.)

State officials must redraw the state’s eight congressional districts this year to keep them relatively equal in population according to last year’s census numbers.

Observers have predicted for months that leaders in the heavily Democratic state would redraw the 6th Congressional District — one of just two Maryland districts held by congressional Republicans — to force out Mr. Bartlett, 85, in favor of a Democrat. Democrats currently hold six of the state’s eight congressional seats.

Democratic officials who worked on the map said their main goal was to factor in population changes throughout the state and move as few residents as possible from their current voting districts.

“In terms of District 6, it’s more a reflection of what’s happening demographically,” said Alexandra Hughes, spokeswoman for state House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat and member of the advisory committee.

Miss Hughes added that a growing number of Montgomery residents moving to the city of Frederick — where many people commute to Montgomery County for work — made it appropriate to combine the areas in a single district.

While Democratic leaders defended the recommended map, state House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Calvert Republican, blasted it as “an exercise in raw, brute political force.”

“These lines are grotesque in the way that they’re drawn and reflect the state,” he said. “It looks like more of the same type of single-party gerrymandering.” The map’s release marked the beginning of a seven-day public comment period.

Mr. O’Malley will review the map and could make changes before introducing his own to the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, which will consider the map during a special session that starts Oct. 17.

“The committee held numerous public hearings, listening to hours of testimony and reviewing submitted suggestions,” said Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat. “It is my intention to introduce a map that is substantially similar to the map submitted by the committee. I encourage the members of the General Assembly and the public to prepare their comments based on the map that has been submitted in preparation for the start of special session.”

Todd Eberly, the coordinator of public-policy studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, called the process “political theater” and said gerrymandering is the norm throughout the country in Republican- and Democrat-controlled states, where redistricting is a partisan process.

He said the revamped 6th Congressional District could force Mr. Bartlett to retire rather than run what would likely have to be an exhausting campaign against state Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Garagiola, Montgomery Democrat, who is considering a run for that seat.

“He would need a lot of money this time, which would mean a lot of fundraising for someone in his 80s,” Mr. Eberly said. “I think these changes turn it into a Democratic district.”

A representative for Mr. Bartlett, who is seeking an 11th term, declined to comment on the map, but said the congressman expects to meet with Mr. O’Malley in the near future.

The new map would also bring major changes to other districts and would make GOP Rep. Andy Harris’ 1st Congressional District even more Republican leaning by adding many voters from Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties who were formerly represented by Mr. Bartlett.

Democratic Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Elijah E. Cummings would also inherit some conservative voters from the 6th Congressional District, while Democratic Rep. Donna F. Edwards — whose 4th District currently covers parts of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties — would lose all presence in Montgomery and instead gain part of Anne Arundel County.

The new map is not expected to endanger the Democrats’ chances at re-election, but Mr. O’Donnell predicted that black leaders could be displeased with the changes to Mr. Cummings and Miss Edwards’ districts — the state’s two majority-black congressional districts.

The state National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said this summer they were worried drastic changes to the congressional map could dilute black influence within the districts and throughout the state.

Elbridge James, political action chairman for the NAACP’s Maryland State Conference, said group leaders were still reviewing the map Tuesday afternoon and could have a response Wednesday.

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