By Ashley M. Latta and Jessica Talson
ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Senate gave final approval to a controversial redistricting plan Tuesday, despite opposition from Republicans and some Democrats across the state. Many expect swift passage in the House, which will reconvene for debate on Wednesday.
The Congressional redistricting bill put forth by Gov. Martin O’Malley passed 33 to 13 along mostly partisan lines. Opponents argued the new map would divide communities with long-standing relationships, dilute minority voting power, and combine counties with less obvious ties, all to bolster Democratic power in Congress.
“What do the coal miners from western Maryland and the farmers have in common with people in Gaithersburg?” asked Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs. “The Democrats want to increase their numbers in Washington and they’re attempting to do that at the expense of the Maryland people.”
House Minority Whip Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio said that alternative redistricting plans that keep communities together were ignored by Democrats. All 12 Senate Republicans voted against the plan.
“There are several plans on the table that could help the citizens of Maryland,” Haddaway-Riccio said. “You can have redistricting plans that don’t put politics over people.”
The proposed Congressional map would slice away the more conservative part of District 6, represented by Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, making it marginally more Democratic. Democrats currently hold six of the state’s eight Congressional seats and hope to make it seven by ousting Bartlett.
Though the bill has solid Democratic support, there are still dissenters within the Party who believe the new plan weakens the voice of minorities in Maryland.
“It saddens me deeply that I must stand and speak against this bill. I am a loyal Democrat,” said Sen. C. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George’s, the only member of his party to vote no Tuesday. “I think minorities lose with this map.”
Muse and others echoed opponents who spoke Monday, the first day of the Special Session called to redraw Congressional lines. The speakers included U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Montgomery, the League of Women Voters and other Maryland citizens, all of whom voiced concerns over dividing communities.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., said he expects the bill will pass by the end of the week.
“There will be much noise, much clamor but quick passage,” he said.
Others said the bill reflects the will of the people.
“The [Governor’s Redistricting] commission had meetings across the state, saw what voters wanted, and that is pretty much reflected in the bill,” said House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch.
Delegate Barbara Robinson, D-Baltimore, agreed that the House will probably pass the governor’s bill.
“There has been a lot of discussion and a lot of work,” said Robinson. “I support what the governor is doing.”
Robinson believes that any amendments made to the bill will be minor.