- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2016

ANNAPOLIS — Democratic lawmakers on Thursday suggested their own versions of Gov. Larry Hogan’s redistricting reform bill, citing other states with Republican-led governments and drawing criticism from GOP legislators for delaying action.

State Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, vice chairman of the committee considering Mr. Hogan’s bill, proposed a plan in which a Republican-controlled state of comparable size must agree to redraw its lines at the same time as Maryland.

“Nationally, the advantage is clearly to the Republicans, and for one of the few states with a Democratic majority to say we’ll give up any advantage we have and you won’t, it’s sort of silly,” said Mr. Pinsky, Prince George’s Democrat. “It’s naive.”

Sen. Jamie Raskin and Delegate Kirill Reznik, both Montgomery Democrats, proposed that lines be drawn by commissions that oversee entire regions of the country.

Mr. Reznik suggested a “mid-Atlantic compact” incorporating Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The latter two states are considering similar compact bills.

Mr. Raskin proffered a “Potomac compact” in which one independent commission draws the lines for both Maryland and Virginia. He also suggested a different type of voting — called “ranked choice” — in which the state is divided into larger districts with multiple congressional seats per district and voters rank their candidates by preference.

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Members of the Democratic-led Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee embraced the idea of a compact while expressing skepticism about its feasibility.

Calls for redistricting reform have sounded regionally and nationally for years. Across much of the country, Democrats have been calling for reform, but Mr. Hogan, a Republican, is heading the effort in Maryland — where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in voter registration and occupy seven of the state’s eight congressional seats.

Based on recommendations from the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission, his bill proposes a nine-member independent commission charged with drawing the state’s congressional and legislative district lines, made up of three Democrats, three Republicans and three independents.

The measure has widespread support among Republican lawmakers and voting reform organizations such as Common Cause Maryland and the League of Women Voters.

More than a dozen states use commissions to some extent to determine their lines, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. They include Arizona and California, with panels completely independent of elected officials; five states that have commissions that can include elected officials; three states that have advisory commissions to assist the legislature; and two states where commissions server as a backup if the legislature stalemates.

The reverse is true in other states where the GOP had more power over the lines, such as Virginia, Ohio, Florida and North Carolina.

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Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Calvert Democrat, said he is open to redistrict reform, but that Congress should push for all 50 states to redraw their lines fairly.

Republican lawmakers called the Democrats’ proposals delay tactics.

State Sen. Stephen Waugh, St. Mary’s Republican, said Democrats were being hypocritical in preaching that Maryland lead on some issues but follow on others.

“It’s ridiculous that we would knowingly and willfully continue to deny people their rights because we’re waiting for someone else to fix themselves,” Mr. Waugh said. “That’s ridiculous. We need to do what’s right for Maryland voters because that’s our job.”

House Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke, Anne Arundel Republican, pointed to his county as a reason to move quickly on redistricting.

Anne Arundel County, a largely Republican-leaning area of the state, has been divided into four “slivers” in Democratic-leaning congressional districts.

“It’s one of the main reasons why Congress and even the General Assembly is so wildly partisan, because generally speaking for most people elected, once you win the primary election, it’s almost impossible to lose your general election because districts are drawn so hard to the right or so hard to the left,” he said. “As a result, you have elected leaders who are just thinking about the fringes in their parties because that’s who they become accountable to.”

Mr. Reznik said he hopes the legislature would move on any of the redistricting bills, but he isn’t hopeful because the issue hasn’t reached its “tipping point.”

“I think we’re kind of in this spot where a lot of people, Republicans, Democrats and independents are all unhappy with it but nobody feels like it’s gotten to the point yet where it’ll cost someone an election,” he said. “It’s not that kind of issue. It’s not marriage equality or firearms or whatever other hot-button issue that gets people to the polls.”

• Anjali Shastry can be reached at ashastry@washingtontimes.com.

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