Josh Kurtz: Race and Races

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Two Illinois congressmen almost came to blows on the House floor last week. Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) and Luis Gutierrez (D) were arguing rather vociferously about the new congressional district map for their state.

What does that have to do with Maryland politics?

Illinois is one of the few big, important states where Democrats control the redistricting process this time around. The map has already been passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor. As currently drawn, it jeopardizes several Republican incumbents. (In most other big states, like Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina, Republicans are in control, and Democrats are in trouble.)

But Jackson and the two other African-American congressmen from the Chicago area have recently begun complaining about the new district lines. They are threatening not to pony up the $10,000 that all Democrats in the Illinois congressional delegation have been asked to contribute to help the state defend the new map in court.

Jackson seems motivated by the fact that under the new boundaries, his district, to maximize the possibility of Democratic gains around the state, has been extended to further out into the suburbs, prompting a white former congresswoman, Debbie Halvorson, to jump into the Democratic primary against him. At the same time, Jackson has been arguing that given the growth of Illinois’ Latino population, state mapmakers could have justifiably created a second Hispanic-majority congressional district, thereby diluting Gutierrez’s base. So that’s where the Jackson-Gutierrez animus stems from.

Illinois isn’t Maryland. But similar arguments are taking place around the country, especially in districts that were originally designed to send minority candidates to Capitol Hill, but where, for any number of complicated reasons, viable white candidates are now also running. So as Maryland lawmakers prepare to tackle the issue of congressional redistricting next month, the discussions in other states about minority representation seem very relevant.

As Center Maryland first reported on July 12, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the legislature are almost certain to draw a new congressional map that targets Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R). It would achieve this largely by placing almost half of Montgomery County in Bartlett’s 6th congressional district, and stripping some very conservative territory out of his district.

Nothing is done in a vacuum, however, and to make this work, several dominoes have to fall. Among them: the state’s two African-American congressmen, Elijah Cummings and Donna Edwards, would have to take on more heavily white and conservative areas into their districts than they currently have now. Cummings, who already represents suburban and rural parts of Howard County, might soon find Carroll County in his district. Edwards looks likely to pick up parts of Anne Arundel County that are usually hostile to Democrats.

Nothing is certain until the ink is dry on the new map – and until it has withstood any legal challenges. But chances are that while both Cummings’ and Edwards’ districts will stay majority-minority, they will certainly have a smaller minority population than they do now.

That should be just fine for both. Cummings and Edwards are savvy pols and consummate team players who know the value of carving an extra seat for House Democrats (as we previously reported, Edwards is one of the driving forces behind a new map that targets Bartlett). They should not have to sweat re-election, even if their district boundaries change considerably.

But who knows how their new districts will change between 2012 and 2020? Is it possible that if one or both retire from Congress, a white candidate could win the race to succeed them?

Meanwhile, some civil rights activists are arguing that given Maryland’s population, a third majority-minority seat could be crafted here, and that mapmakers ought to make that their priority. That might be possible in theory. Overall, the state’s population is about 45 percent minority. But the minority population is awfully concentrated, mostly in Prince George’s County (Edwards’ district is just 21 percent white) and Baltimore City (Cummings’ district is 32 percent white).

Chris Van Hollen’s district and Steny Hoyer’s district are each just 48 percent white, and Dutch Ruppersberger’s is 55 percent white – meaning there is minority turf that could be split off from the white members’ districts – again, in theory. And given the nature of their districts as currently drawn, you could easily see a minority candidate winning an open seat race to replace Van Hollen or Hoyer. If they keep their current lines, the minority populations in both districts will inevitably grow in the next decade.

These are among the considerations that O’Malley and legislative leaders will have to balance as they put the final touches on the map the General Assembly will vote on next month. They’ll pay lip service, of course, to doing the fair and just thing. But political considerations will be uppermost in their minds.

Will tensions flare here between white politicians and minorities, or among the minority politicians themselves, the way they are in Illinois and Missouri and Michigan and California and elsewhere? Nothing is more raw in politics – nothing hits home for officeholders more – than redistricting. That’s why next month’s special session is going to be so fascinating to watch – and fun.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

The Company He Keeps

Baltimore Ravin’s

Jack Johnson and the Offal Truth

Betting the Chalk

Death Knell for Democrats?

The Bruce of Summer

Nightmare Scenario

Sources: Congressional delegation Dems eye Bartlett as redistricting target

Talkin’ 'Bout Their Generation
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.