By Annika McGinnis, Capital News Service (Oct. 15, 2014)
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – More signs are in Spanish than English on a stretch of Wheaton’s Georgia Avenue, a road lined with “lavanderias,” Latin American grocery stores and the Guatemalan fast food chain Pollo Campero.
Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery County, left, is registering voters Oct. 4 at Montgomery County’s Wheaton Library. Montgomery’s Hispanic Democratic Club sponsored the event, seeking to register new voters in a county that has become majority-minority. Capital News Service photo by Annika McGinnis.
Down the road, at noon on Oct. 4 in the Wheaton Regional Library, “Inscribase para voter” – register to vote – was written on a poster on Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez’s table. By 12:30 p.m., the Montgomery County Democrat, 11-year delegate and first Latina member of the state legislature had enrolled five new voters, including several new citizens.
Though small, the grassroots push showed the slow but steady increase in minority political participation across Maryland. It parallels the state’s Hispanic and African-American populations’ increase over the past decade.
Despite an increase in minority candidates running for seats in the state legislature, diversity in the General Assembly will still likely not keep pace with these changing demographics – due partly to map redistricting that some minority lawmakers and political groups said clumps together or slices across minority populations to keep Democratic incumbents in power.
The new map makes some inroads, adding two new African-American majority state Senate districts and the state’s first majority Hispanic House of Delegates district.
And though African-Americans made up 31 percent of Marylanders in 2012 and Hispanics 8 percent, the legislature’s minority caucus leaders anticipated African-American and Hispanic legislators would make up just 24 and 3 percent of the General Assembly following this November’s elections.
“What we see is just a huge continuation of the status quo,” said Gutierrez, an El Salvadoran native. “We don’t have an equitable representation of our population.”
Following new U.S. Census data released every 10 years, the Maryland Constitution mandates the state remodel its legislative districts to take into account changing population demographics.
Between 2000, the census basis for the last map, and 2012, when the last figures were tabulated, 260,000 more African-Americans moved into the state, a 2 percent increase in the group’s proportion of state population, U.S. Census Bureau statistics show.
African-American groups swelled especially in Harford, Charles and Baltimore counties: In Charles, which is 41 percent black, the demographic grew 57 percent.
Over the decade, the Hispanic population doubled, growing in every Maryland county, including 138,000 more people in Montgomery and Prince George’s alone. The two counties surged from 12 and 7 percent Hispanic or Latino in 2000 to 17 and 15 percent in 2012, census data shows.
Montgomery includes the nation’s third-largest group of El Salvadorans, the Pew Hispanic Center reported.
Gutierrez called Maryland’s Hispanic growth “enormous.”
“As immigration has continued, many have come to the area because that is where they have sisters, brothers, cousins, friends,” she said.
Gutierrez leading Gaithersburg resident George Ndinu through the voter registration process. Capital News Service photo by Annika McGinnis.
‘I WANT THIS NEIGHBORHOOD, NOT THAT NEIGHBORHOOD’
Forty-three incumbents from the 141-member House of Delegates are retiring or running for other positions, and seven incumbent senators out of 47 will not run. That leaves about 70 percent of the House and 85 percent of the Senate campaigning to keep their spots.
The new map affected most districts. It was designed to keep in power “not just the majority party – but specific people who are in specific positions in the majority party,” said Del. Aisha Braveboy, D-Prince George’s County.
Maryland, where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than two to one, has the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation, according to a 2012 report by geospatial analysis firm Azavea.
Gutierrez said when redistricting began in 2011, House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel County, appointed a state delegate to meet one-on-one with each Montgomery incumbent delegate and prepare the county’s “preferred” districts.
“Ten questions were asked: ‘Where do you live? Where do your parents live? Where do your friends live? And the people who are running against you?’ And then there were changes made to ensure that incumbent would be re-elected,” Gutierrez said.
But the Maryland Court of Appeals stated in 2012 that intentionally creating a map “helping or injuring incumbents or political parties” was allowed, as long as it did not violate constitutional or federal requirements.
A five-member governor’s redistricting committee created the official map, but any legislator could come to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services and ask them to create a proposed map to recommend to the committee, said Michelle Davis, a senior policy analyst in the department.
Lawmakers wouldn’t come in and say “‘Oh, we want to screw all the Democrats in Calvert County,’” but they could say ‘“Oh, I want my district to look like this,’” Davis said.
“They may say, ‘I’ve got too much population in my district – can you lighten that up, make it legal? And when you do that, can you take more of this and less of that?’” Davis said. “More times it’s in terms of geography: ‘I want this neighborhood, not that neighborhood.’”
But in effect, the map “tore apart communities,” Braveboy, the chair of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, said.
“That wasn’t as important as preserving power,” she said.
A THREE-COUNTY DISTRICT
Take District 27, Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr.’s district, said Tamara Brown, South County Democratic Club president. The district, which used to fall in Prince George’s and Calvert, now includes part of a third county: Charles.
Brown said it was modified to offset the increasingly Republican Calvert with mostly Democratic votes from Charles’s growing African-American population.
“It’s an atrocity of gerrymandering regardless of the party,” Brown wrote in an email. “Redistricting keeps [Miller] in office. He can’t or won’t live with us anymore, but sure keeps our highly reliable votes.”
Over two weeks, Miller did not respond to repeated calls and emails for comment.
But in 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals struck down a case that claimed several multicounty districts disenfranchised minorities and disregarded the state constitution’s requirement that districts regard “natural and political boundaries” such as county lines.
There was no evidence of racial discrimination, and the state could create multicounty districts in order to ensure population equity or other requirements, the court ruled.
THE NEW MAP’S “DILUTING” EFFECT
Miller, the state’s Senate president since 1987, was one of five members serving on the governor’s committee that designed the redistricting map following the 2010 national census.
The group also included Busch, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Secretary of Appointments Jeanne Hitchcock and former Republican Anne Arundel County Del. James King.
The fifth member, Prince George’s County business owner Richard Stewart, was sentenced in June 2012 to two years in prison for not paying almost $4 million in taxes.
O’Malley eventually presented his plan to the General Assembly in January 2012, and it went into effect in February of that year.
Gutierrez called the redistricting process “totally flawed.” Though the state held 12 public hearings between July and September 2011, Gutierrez said, there had not been any proposed map to discuss at those meetings.
During the planning stages, Gutierrez proposed two additional majority-minority districts in Montgomery County: a Hispanic one in District 18’s Wheaton and Aspen Hill area and an African-American one in District 20’s Takoma Park. Gutierrez said she also pushed for another district within District 19 near Gaithersburg and Germantown.
Twenty-two other alternative plans were submitted for all or some of the state’s legislative districts. But the redistricting committee had no obligation to comment on or use them in any way, according to the state’s Department of Planning.
Instead, the new map broke apart Montgomery’s District 39, which borders Gaithersburg and includes Washington Grove and Montgomery Village, into three districts that “diluted” minority voting power, Gutierrez said.
And though the first majority-Hispanic state House district was created in Prince George’s County, Gutierrez said she thought the size of the voting-age Latino population in that district- 19,086 people, or 60 percent – warranted more than a one-member district.
Baltimore City lost two districts due to its declining population. As district lines changed, three African-American incumbents were pitted against each other – and former Democratic delegates Keiffer Mitchell and Melvin Stukes lost against Democratic Del. Keith Haynes in the primary.
Affecting a “very poor” district, the move diluted a “stronghold” of the African-American community at the city center, said Baltimore City NAACP President Tessa Hill-Aston.
A group of 22 voters, filing in the Maryland Court of Appeals in 2012, claimed the new map underpopulated almost all African-American districts and violated both the state and national constitutions.
However, the court denied any racial discrimination and ruled that all districts met population requirements.
MEANDERING AROUND A ‘SALAMANDER’
Complaints of Maryland gerrymandering are nothing new: Following 2002 redistricting, former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry sued the state on claims that the plan lacked adequate majority-minority districts in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties to match the area’s black and Hispanic populations. The Court of Appeals threw out the governor’s map and created a new one.
After the 2010 census, congressional district redistricting also drew fire from the Fannie Lou Hamer PAC, which sued unsuccessfully on claims that the new maps diluted Montgomery’s minority power.
Mid-September, about two dozen Maryland residents, angry about what they called a “salamander”-shaped Third Congressional District that snakes from Owings Mills to Olney to Annapolis, biked, ran and kayaked for three days and 225 miles around the district’s confines.
Annapolis resident Tom DeKornfeld ran 55 miles in the so-called “gerrymander meander” before helping deliver a petition to gubernatorial candidate representatives near the Maryland Statehouse in Annapolis on Sept. 23.
Maryland League of Women Voters representative Gabrielle Strandquist, also from Annapolis, said at the event that gerrymandering to benefit incumbents was “unhealthy” and “undemocratic.
“History has proven that even if the guy’s a jerk, they almost always get re-elected,” she said. “Because it’s ‘Oh, I know him; let’s just vote for him, you know. And he or she may not be a good person.”
A MORE DIVERSE BALLOT
Despite redistricting complaints, districts are still seeing more minority candidates running for seats in the general election as the legislature prepares for a huge November turnover.
Some called it an inevitable generational demographic change; others called it national attention to minority issues or inspiration from the prospect of electing Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the state’s first African-American governor.
Cassandra Beverley, a Democrat from Harford County running for the District 34B House of Delegates seat, said there were four African-Americans running in her district, including herself- more than she’d seen in two decades.
She said part of why she ran was to better reflect Harford’s growing diversity. The district increased from 10 to 14 percent black between 2000 and 2012, census statistics show.
“I think there was just a lot of motivation for people to do something to fight the status quo,” she said. “When they’re looking at a governing body that doesn’t seem to have anyone who looks like them or thinks like them, they’re less likely to have confidence in the legislature.”
Black Republican Council Chairman Tony Campbell said more African-American Republicans are also running: five for General Assembly seats, four of them from Prince George’s County.
The increasing diversity represents a “generational shift,” Campbell said.
But the increases are still marginal. Braveboy anticipated just one or two more African-American members to the 44 currently in the legislature’s black caucus, including an additional one from the majority-minority Montgomery, where non-Hispanic whites made up 49 percent in 2012.
To the four current Hispanic legislators, Gutierrez anticipated, two more delegates would be elected: Maricé Morales in Montgomery County and Will Campos in Prince George’s County’s new Hispanic-majority district.
In recent months, immigration issues and the race riots in Ferguson, Missouri, stemming from this summer’s shooting of African-American teenager Michael Brown have brought festering race-related issues into the limelight.
With a more diverse legislature, Braveboy said she hoped state policy would also address more issues affecting minorities. Last session, she said it “took a lot” to get a bill passed mandating the state hire more minority troopers.
Enacting real policy change, including on language access bills, minority businesses and culturally appropriate services and hiring, requires legislators who represent those affected, Gutierrez said.
“If we don’t bring up the issues, they would not be on the table,” Gutierrez said.
A GROWING VOTER BLOC
Gaithersburg resident George Ndinu stopped by Gutierrez’s voter registration table in the entryway of the library on Oct 4.
“I always want to make sure I’m available to vote,” Ndinu said, though he had lived in the United States for 15 years since moving from Cameroon and had voted several times before.
Even with more minority candidates running, candidates need to do a better job reaching out to minority and underrepresented communities, Gutierrez said. Often, she said, candidates target so-called “super voters” – those who have been registered for years – and neglect new voters such as many Hispanics.
But minorities could become a strong voting bloc: This year, Gutierrez said she had seen between 1,000 and 2,000 newly registered Latino voters in her district.
“There’s been a real concerted effort to say to Latinos: ‘Register to vote; it’s in the voting box and voting process that you can make a difference,’” she said.
Though Braveboy said minorities had been “woefully underrepresented” in the state legislature, she anticipated some “marginal gains” next month and hoped for an escalating trend toward diversity.
“In numbers, you have power,” Braveboy said.