Gov. Larry Hogan’s Redistricting Reform Commission wrapped up its fifth and final regional hearing Tuesday night in Laurel with what has become the typical list of witnesses advocating for an independent commission to cure Maryland’s partisan gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts. Republican legislators and citizens outnumbered Democrats and African American Democrats complained of underrepresentation. But in a break from previous hearings, a smattering of Democrats opposed changes that unilaterally weaken their party while larger Republican-controlled states continued their gerrymandering ways, disempowering Democrats.
Elbridge James, president of the state NAACP, asked the commission to “restore voting rights” for African Americans. “You don’t have to look like me to represent me,” James said, “but you do have to know that I exist,” and black voters are too scattered among some congressional districts to have much influence. The district lines “should be there to help the people, not the politicians,” James said. “We should be heard.”
That was reinforced by Sen. Anthony Muse, a Prince George’s County Democrat. “The people have very little say about the process,” Muse said. “The map did not empower the people,” Muse said. “It worked for Democrats, but it did not work for the people,” a line that drew loud applause.
They were two of about 20 people who testified and about 60 who attended the hearing by the 11-member commission. A total of 90 people have testified at the five hearings of the commission, which will start work next Tuesday morning in Annapolis on its final report due to the governor in three weeks.