Gov. Larry Hogan, who has long called for a state commission to draw district lines, has formed a commission of his own to draw new ones. But gerrymandering in MoCo congressional districts is nothing new. Annapolis Democrats have redrawn congressional districts in MoCo more than once to replace Republican U.S. House Representatives with members of their own party.
Let’s start with the 1991 map of Congressional Districts 6 and 8.
In that year, Congressional District 6 contained all of Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick and Carroll counties plus most of the portions of Howard County outside the Interstate 95 corridor. Congressional District 8 contained all of Montgomery County except for Takoma Park, Downtown Silver Spring and the southern part of the Route 29 corridor.
The two districts were not very different from the maps of the 1970s and 1980s. For most of the 1990s, both districts were represented by Republicans: Roscoe Bartlett in District 6 and Connie Morella in District 8.
The 2002 map was drawn in an effort to knock out Morella.
Much of MoCo’s relatively moderate upcounty areas were shifted from District 8 into District 6 and the Prince George’s County-based District 4 while parts of Prince George’s County near D.C. were added. That had the effect of making Morella’s District 8 more Democratic. Bartlett’s District 6 had Howard County removed but conservative portions of Baltimore and Harford counties were added, maintaining the district’s Republican character. The new lines in District 8 contributed to Morella’s defeat by Democratic challenger Chris Van Hollen.
Annapolis Democrats then came after Bartlett.
The 2011 map radically changed District 6, removing Republican areas in Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties and some of the rural parts of Frederick County. In their stead, Democratic areas in western MoCo were added.
This helped Democratic challenger John Delaney defeat Bartlett. To compensate for the changes in District 6, rural portions of Carroll and Frederick counties were added to District 8, making that district slightly less Democratic.
Now let’s look at the electoral numbers of these districts over the same time span. In District 8, Morella’s percentage of the vote slipped steadily from 73 percent in 1992 to 52 percent in 2000.
The 2002 map helped produce a six-point improvement in Democratic performance and a five-point drop in Morella’s performance, which was enough to earn Van Hollen the win. The district has not been competitive since though the 2011 map cut Democratic performance by an average of 7 points.
District 6 is now a very different district from what it once was.
From 1992 through 2010, Bartlett won an average of 61 percent of the vote. But under the 2011 map, Bartlett’s percentage fell to 38. That’s not because he instantaneously became a terrible congressman. It’s because many Western Maryland Republicans in his district were replaced by MoCo Democrats.
To be fair, it’s also because the self-funding Delaney was the most formidable challenger Bartlett had ever faced.
The redrawings of Districts 6 and 8 have helped transform Maryland’s eight-member U.S. House delegation from an even split in the 1993-2003 period to a nearly all-Democratic composition now. (District 1 representative Andy Harris is the state’s sole Republican U.S. House member.)
The General Assembly’s Democratic leadership is acutely aware of this fact. Expect them to fight to the bitter end to retain their power to draw district lines.
Adam Pagnucco is a writer, researcher and consultant who is a former chief of staff at the County Council. He has worked in the labor movement and has had clients in labor, business and politics.