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Md. Senate Approves U.S. House Redistricting Bill

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- The Maryland Senate approved Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's congressional redistricting plan on a 33-13 vote on Tuesday, and Democrats said the new map reflects necessary demographic changes while Republicans contended it favors party politics over the people.

All 12 of the Senate's Republicans voted against plan, and all but one Democrat voted for it. A House committee voted 18-5 in favor of the map Tuesday. The House is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday.

Supporters of the plan say the congressional map for the next 10 years reflects changing demographics in the suburbs of the nation's capital and up the Interstate 270 corridor.

Sen. Catherine Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, said the caucus initially set out to maintain two African-American districts, which the plan does. Pugh, who voted for the map, also noted that the black caucus was engaged in the redistricting process for more than a year, and a third majority-minority district could develop in the future in the 5th Congressional district in southern Maryland. Rep. Steny Hoyer, a member of the House Democratic leadership, currently holds the seat.

"We hired consultants. We put forth maps, and none of those maps showed a third African-American district, but what we did ask for was not to diminish Charles County, because we see the opportunity for a third African-American district there," Pugh said.

Republicans criticized the governor's proposal as a gerrymandered map designed to give a Democrat a much better chance to defeat Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, who has held the 6th Congressional district seat in western Maryland since 1993. The GOP also attacked the plan for separating communities of interest, and forcing people from the Montgomery County suburbs into a district that has been traditionally rural.

"The only reason this was done was to attempt to elect a Democrat from the sixth district. It may or may not work, Mr. President," Sen. George Edwards, R-Garrett, said, referring to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat who was on the redistricting advisory panel. "It may or may not work, because there is a lot of difference in the thinking."

The state's delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives includes six Democrats and two Republicans.

Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, said she supported the map because it would keep experienced lawmakers in office during difficult times.

"We need some seasoned leaders who have shown at least in Maryland that they're able to work together, even if the entire Congress has not lived up to that ideal," Kelley said.

But Sen. C. Anthony Muse, the only Democrat to vote against the map, said he could not support the plan, because it doesn't reflect the best interests of his constituents. Muse, who represents Prince George's County, said lawmakers have been told the map is beneficial to the Democratic Party, but he said he thinks the plan puts the good of the party over the good of the people.

"In fact, I believe it pits the party against the people -- against a minority population that has down through the decades been the party's most loyal supporters, and yet we stand at this moment in history determined to reward that loyalty by diluting their political power, weakening their voices and shrinking their districts," Muse said.

Delegate Dereck Davis, a Democrat who also represents Prince George's, said members of Congress don't just think about their districts.

"We need to get out of this sense of light-mindedness that only people who think like me or live in the area that I live or do the things that I do can represent me," said Davis, who supports the governor's map.

Republican Sen. Christopher Shank, of Washington County, said he could not see how the plan benefits western Maryland.

"Others have spoken about the seniority and other things along those lines, but let there be no doubt: this is a gerrymandered map to fulfill a national political goal and I can't support that," Shank said.

The state's congressional districts are being redrawn in response to the 2010 census, which found suburban Maryland counties had the state's biggest population growth over the last decade. All of the state's population gain resulted from increases in minorities, according to the census.

Debate over creating a third majority-minority district has created an unusual alliance between Maryland Republicans and a political action committee based in heavily Democratic Prince George's County. The GOP and the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee pushed for an alternative redistricting measure that would have created a third majority-district, but the bill has been rejected.

A spokeswoman for Fannie Lou said the committee would file a grievance with the U.S. Justice Department and file a lawsuit in federal court, if the governor's proposal is not changed.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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