Md. General Assembly overrides Hogan’s veto of Congressional redistricting plan

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Democratic state lawmakers voted to override Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s veto of their congressional redistricting plan Thursday afternoon.

Hogan vetoed the map at a press conference at 2:15 p.m. Thursday afternoon. The House of Delegates voted 96-41 to override Hogan’s veto roughly an hour and a half after the governor’s announcement; the Senate overrode Hogan’s veto in a 32-14 vote shortly after.

Democratic legislative leaders had reason to anticipate a veto from Hogan: The governor had promised to oppose any redistricting proposal that differed from the one put forward by his Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission.

That commission’s congressional redistricting plan wasn’t taken up for a vote by the House Rules and Executive Executive Nominations Committee following a joint hearing with the Senate’s decennial redistricting committee Monday, although Republican lawmakers in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate attempted to reintroduce that proposal via unsuccessful amendments.

Democrats hold a veto-proof majority in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, and have already voted to override Hogan’s vetoes on several measures from the 2021 legislative session this week.

The redistricting plan vetoed by Hogan on Thursday was put forward by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, convened by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County).

Jones and Ferguson are both members of that commission, alongside House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), Senate President Pro Tem Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s), House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany) and Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel.) That panel is chaired by Karl Aro, former head of the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services.

Hogan said he opted to veto the maps Thursday rather than waiting until the end of the legislative “allow the court process to begin.”

U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced a lawsuit on Monday over Texas’ redistricting plan that the state’s Republican-led legislature approved in October. Garland charged that redistricting plan would disempower Black and Latino voters.

Hogan echoed Sen. Stephen S. Hershey (R-Middle Shore), who suggested on Wednesday that Garland should also scrutinize the General Assembly’s redistricting plan.

“He needs to take a look at exactly what we’re doing here in Maryland with respect to the same reason that he’s suing the state of Texas,” Hershey said Wednesday.

The LRAC map includes two majority Black districts — the 4th and the 7th — and creates a 5th Congressional District with a Black plurality for a total of three districts with a majority people of color. In the current congressional map, the 4th and 7th are majority Black and the 5th has a white plurality. The Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission map would have included one majority Black district and three additional districts with a majority people of color.

“These gerrymandered maps will be challenged in both the federal and the state courts,” Hogan said Thursday.

Democratic lawmakers have defended the LRAC congressional map. Griffith a member of the LRAC, said during Wednesday’s floor debate that the commission was “very mindful” of complying with the Voting Rights Act.

“I’m confident that we have provided the opportunity for minority voters to vote for their preferred candidate, as we intended,” Griffith said.

Democrats have said compactness is secondary to compliance with the Voting Rights Act and minimizing population variances.

“Maryland’s geography is unique, and our population is varied,” Senate Majority Leader Nancy J. King said Wednesday. “Taking all that into consideration, I am confident that this map is a fair one, and one that reflects the lived experience of Marylanders.”

Just one Democratic lawmaker in either the House of Delegates or the Senate voted to sustain Hogan’s veto: Del. Gabriel T. Acevero (D-Montgomery). Acevero said in an interview that “gerrymandering is wrong no matter the party.”

Acevero said that, despite his objections to the LRAC map, he didn’t find the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission map any better.

“The commission was pretty much chosen by Hogan,” Acevero said. “It’s not independent.”

Acevero said all lawmakers and Hogan should support the federal For The People Act, which would require nonpartisan redistricting commissions across the country. That legislation, sponsored by Maryland Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D), passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year but has been blocked by Republicans in the Senate.

“What we need is both parties calling on the U.S. Senate to abolish or reform the filibuster and pass the Freedom to Vote Act, which does away with partisan redistricting,” Acevero said. “I believe in democracy and I think the democratic thing to do is for senators to do their job.”

Asked if he had received or worried about blowback from his fellow Democrats, Acevero replied, “Come on, man. I’m always going to do what I think is the right thing.”

The debate over Maryland’s congressional maps won’t end with the override votes. Fair Maps Maryland, an organization with ties to Hogan, announced plans for a lawsuit over the congressional redistricting plan just moments after it was approved in the state Senate on Wednesday evening.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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