Independent-Minded Lawmakers Headline Nov.10 Forum on Gerrymandering
- Jennifer Bevan Dangel
Delaney and Braveboy Say Change Needed for Sake of Democracy; Reform Opposed by Insiders, Backed by the Public
ANNAPOLIS – The uphill battle to end gerrymandering could use more legislative soldiers like U.S. Rep. John Delaney and State Del. Aisha Braveboy, a pair of independent-minded Marylanders.
Having shown a willingness to buck party leadership and push for change, Delaney and Braveboy will be keynote speakers at a Nov. 10 forum at the University of Maryland on redistricting reform.
“The chances of Congress agreeing to sit down, do the right thing and eliminate gerrymandering are almost non-existent,” Delaney said. “You are going to need a big fight, but the American people will be on your side.”
“This is quite simple. This is about democracy,” Braveboy said. “Constituents should pick their politicians rather than the other way around.”
Delaney and Braveboy made the comments in separate interviews with Common Cause Maryland, which — along with the League of Women Voters of Maryland, National Council of Jewish Women Annapolis Section and University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy — is sponsoring the forum.
The event will examine the problem and possible solutions to gerrymandering, which allows the party in power to draw congressional and state legislative districts so that a majority of its voters are in as many districts as possible.
Both parties acknowledge that the system is unfair, but refuse to end their gerrymandering unless the other side ends theirs. With both sides refusing to budge, gerrymandering reigns in much of the country.
“Democratic and Republican bosses hate the idea of eliminating gerrymandering because it would take away their power,” Delaney said. “It would be good for the people, bad for the parties.”
Delaney became an outspoken foe of gerrymandering after it helped him get elected to Congress in 2012 from Maryland’s previously Republican-held 6th District. “I saw gerrymandering up close. I saw that people are not happy with it. I want to fix it,” said Delaney.
In July, Delaney introduced in Congress his “Open Our Democracy Act,” which calls for redistricting reform along with open primaries for House elections and making Election Day a holiday in a bid to increase voter participation.
In a September 3 op-ed in The Washington Post, Delaney wrote: “Gerrymandering has turned the vast majority of House districts into one-party enclaves, whose representatives’ main concern is making the most rabid faction of their parties happy,” not finding common ground to solve problems.
Delaney’s bill would direct the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog agency, to examine the feasibility of national standards for drawing district lines. It would also take a look at what some other reform-minded states have done.
Speaking with Common Cause, Delaney, said, “Next year in Congress, I intend to make this an issue. I intend to build public support.”
In recent years, Braveboy has tried to lead the charge for change in Maryland, offering legislation that called for creation of a bipartisan task force to study possible reform.
But her bill never even got a vote in the Democratic-led House. Instead, it was referred to committee where it quietly died.
“Voters rightfully feel that they are not being treated fairly. They feel that they are not being heard. I think just about everyone recognizes the problem of gerrymandering, but because so many in leadership have benefitted from the process, they are reluctant to change it,” Braveboy said.
Braveboy, first elected to the Maryland House in 2006, made a failed bid this year for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. She plans to retire in January from the state legislature and again focus on her work as a lawyer.
But Braveboy said she will remain interested in redistricting reform. “At some point, hopefully, me or someone else, will get over the hump on this,” she said.
Speaking before Tuesday’s election, Braveboy noted that the state’s two leading gubernatorial candidates, Republican Larry Hogan and Democrat Anthony Brown, had both voiced interest in possible reform. “I want to remain optimistic,” Braveboy said.
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Tame the Gerrymander is a joint effort led by Common Cause Maryland, the League of Women Voters of Maryland, and the National Council of Jewish Women Annapolis Section.
The Tame the Gerrymander Coalition can be followed on Facebook (Tame the Gerrymander) or Twitter (@TameGerrymander). Information is also available at: www.commoncause.org/issues/voting-and-elections/tame-the-gerrymander/
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, 410-303-7954 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org
Executive Director, Common Cause MD
Ralph Watkins, 301-787-7170, email@example.com
Board Member, League of Women Voters of Maryland
Carol Ann Hecht, 410-280-3746, firstname.lastname@example.org
Annapolis Section of the National Council of Jewish Women
Susan Cochran, 410-269-0232, email@example.com
President, League of Women Voters of Maryland