This past year we have worked hard to bring you the important news that concerns the residents of Prince George’s County. Going into the new year we look forward to continuing that service.
The Washington Post reports the federal panel of judges review the congressional redistricting maps used favorable testimony from Executive Rushern Baker and Executive Ike Leggett to justify upholding maps they themselves see as lacking. Read the story online here.
Federal judges uphold Maryland’s controversial new congressional map
By Aaron C. Davis, Friday, December 23, 5:15 PM
A panel of three federal judges upheld Maryland’s controversial new congressional map Friday, ruling that critics had failed to prove the state’s Democratic leadership either sought to dilute the voting power of minorities or that the new map would do so.
The ruling all but cleared the way for Maryland Democrats to seek to oust the state’s senior Republican lawmaker, 10-term Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, and to perhaps hand the party a seat to help win back control of the House in 2012.
Under the new map, Bartlett’s 6th Congressional District, which was centered in western Maryland, stretches nearly 200 miles, from the West Virginia line to the Capital Beltway, and takes in nearly 350,000 mostly Democratic voters in Frederick and Montgomery counties.
In making the district competitive for a Democrat, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the legislature split majority-minority Montgomery into three mostly white districts. The plaintiffs had contested that change and had argued that the state’s surging minority population required Maryland to have drawn a third majority-black district.
The judges, however, ruled for the state on every count. In so doing, they affirmed a first-in-the-nation effort by Maryland to count prisoners not in the jurisdiction of incarceration but in those of last-known address.
The state’s Democratically controlled General Assembly passed the law this year. It effectively increased the census counts of Baltimore and Prince George’s County by several thousand at the expense of more rural areas containing Maryland’s largest prisons.
Jason Torchinsky, an attorney for members of the ,Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee who were named plaintiffs, and the conservative Legacy Foundation, which funded the suit, called the judges’ ruling disappointing.
In a 38-page opinion, 4th Circuit Court Judge Paul V. Niemeyer wrote that “evidence does not suggest, much less prove, that the political process in general or the redistricting process in particular is so infected with racial considerations that a desire to dilute African-American voting strength was the predominate factor” in designing Maryland’s new map.
Rather, citing an argument made in a hearing Tuesday by Maryland Assistant Attorney General Dan Friedman, Niemeyer pointed out that several black political leaders, including Montgomery and Prince George’s executives Isiah Leggett (D) and Rushern L. Baker III (D), supported the new map. “As counsel for the State suggested at oral argument, accepting the plaintiffs‘ argument . . . would require us to conclude that — the entire African-American leadership in the State of Maryland was hoodwinked. We cannot reach such a conclusion.”
Alexander Williams Jr. and Roger W. Titus, both of the U.S. District Court for Maryland, concurred in the opinion.
Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for O’Malley (D) said, in a statement after the ruling that the governor’s map “complied with the letter and the spirit of the law. We were confident that it would stand up to legal challenges.”
Torchinsky, however, said the state should take seriously parts of the judges’ opinion that stressed Maryland should be careful in deciding lines for state lawmakers.
O’Malley hosted a hearing on that map Thursday and must introduce it when the General Assembly reconvenes next month. The map has drawn protests from some African American lawmakers and community leaders in Prince George’s and Baltimore who contend it does not do enough to protect existing majority black districts. The map increases from 10 to 12 to the number of majority-black Senate districts.
Titus, one of the district court judges, wrote separately to lament that there wasn’t a clearer judicial test for partisan gerrymandering and to make clear he was less than pleased with Maryland’s map, saying portions resemble “a Rorschach-like eyesore.”
It “is clear that the plan adopted by the General Assembly of Maryland is, by any reasonable standard, a blatant political gerrymander,” Titus wrote. “I would not have hesitated to strike down the Maryland plan. The question, however, is on the basis of what standard?”
Titus said he found the combination of extreme western Maryland with suburban Montgomery County particularly distasteful. He said he found the new 6th District to be a violation of natural boundaries and communities of interest that would not have been permissible under state standards for drawing General Assembly districts.
“I realize, of course, that during the redistricting process partisan considerations and incumbency protection inevitably play a role, but….
“Those who have an interest in farming, mining, tourism, paper production, and the hunting of bears, are paired with voters who abhor the hunting of bears and do not know what a coal mine or paper mill even looks like.”
Prince George’s County State Senator C. Anthony Muse, who has been exploring a potential primary challenge to incumbent Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, will officially declare his bid to unseat him we have learned.
The Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, which has made a name for itself by using forceful language to attack redistricting maps they disagree with, took Prince George’s County Delegation Chairwoman Melony Griffith for holding an emergency closed-door meeting to discuss the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee’s map.
Read their full statement below:
To Whom It May Concern,On tonight, Monday, December 19, 2011, the Prince George’s County House Delegation held a meeting on legislative redistricting at the Prince George’s County Administration Building. This meeting was called by the Delegation Chair, Melony Griffith, Democrat 25th Legislative District. The purpose of this meeting was to critique the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee’s Legislative Redistricting proposal for the 47 Districts in the State of Maryland. The invited speaker was Joseph Bryce, the Legislative Director for Governor Martin O’Malley and the key staffer to the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee.The Maryland Open Meeting Laws states that when the House Delegation Members meet to conduct public business, those meetings are to be publicized and open to the public. (http://sunshinereview.org/index.php/Maryland_Public_Information_Act)Delegation Chair, Melony Griffith, decided to hold this meeting as a “closed door meeting.” This is a clear violation of the laws that they are elected to uphold. It is my understanding that the topic of redistricting is an ineligible criteria for executive session meetings. All of the Governor’s redistricting advisory committee meetings were open to the public and had transcripts produced to demonstrate a legal history of the meetings and work products. If I am incorrect and this meeting was legal then I find it to be clearly unethical.Dennis Serrette, the President of the Barnaby Manor Civic Association, attempted to enter the meeting. Mr. Serrette stated that he was stopped by the police and was told that this meeting was closed to the public and only for Delegates. Mr. Serrette stated that there were 10 police officers standing guard to block the doors and public access to the meetings.It is my understanding that Senator Mike Miller informed Delegate Melony Griffith that this had to be a closed door meeting to allow Delegates that were being redrawn out of their districts an opportunity to present their grievance. Incumbency protection of elected officials is the only concern for Senator Miller and Delegate Griffith.Anytime an African American Women instructs African American County police officers to prevent the Black community from being informed on redistricting is DISGRACEFUL. Especially if this action is coming under the direction of a White man, Senator Mike Miller.I know that you are tired of hearing this but this is just another example of ‘Negro Intellectual Castration.” Or since we are speaking of a Black Women..I will call it “Negress Intellectual Abuse.” I hope that I am wrong and am falsely accusing Delegate Melony Griffith. If I am wrong then I publicly apologize. If I am right, then Delegate Melony Griffith owes the Black Community an apology for instructing a Black man with a gun to prevent another Black Man from exercising his Public Rights…Yours in the struggle,
Fannie Lou Hamer – Political Action Committee“Ensuring A Fair and Responsive Redistricting Process”P.O. Box 2302 * Upper Marlboro, MD 20773
Prince George’s County has 23 delegates in the Maryland House of Delegates. Additionally we have 8 senators for a total of 31 voices in the General Assembly. If the newly proposed map by the Governors Redistricting Advisory Committee is approved by Gov. O’Malley the county could lose a delegate but even more it could see as many as six more minorities in the delegation all at the expense of…white incumbents.
Changes to districts 21, 22, 23, 27 and 47 which are the only legislative districts in the county with white delegates or senators has made being a white elected official in Prince George’s County a dangerous thing. That these proposals were made by a committee with only one African-American is even more shocking.
Prince George’s County has 8 white delegates and one Filipino. The other fourteen are African-American. The county has three African-American senators, one Hispanic senator, and four white senators. However under the proposed map by the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee things might change a lot!
The incumbents in this district should remain safe, including the two white delegates Ben Barnes and Barbara Frush, but changes to the southern portion of the district will impact the safety of Delegate Doyle Niemann in the 47th.
District 22 currently is made up of the communities of Greenbelt, Hyattsville, New Carrollton, and Riverdale, but changes to the map bringing in communities with more blacks such as Lanham, Seabrook, and Glenn Dale could seriously endanger Senator Paul Pinsky and Delegate Ann Healey. The district has another white delegate in Justin Ross but Ross has proven himself to be a favorite in the black community. While the only African-American delegate in the district Tawanna Gaines out polls them both year after year, Healey has often come in third of the three and in 2006, the last time they faced a challenge, only beat challenger Karren Pope-Onwukwe by 1,355 votes or 6%.
Senator Paul Pinsky on the other hand hasn’t faced a primary challenge since 2002. This could make him out of touch with voters where he hasn’t had to actively campaign for reelection in 9 years now but 12 by the next primary. A district with more black voters for an aging senator (he will be about 64 during the next primary) could make him a target for retirement.
Nobody thought that leadership favorite Senator Douglas JJ Peters would be on the chopping block during redistricting. The chairman of the delegation, Peters is well liked both in Annapolis and his district, but has long feared a well-funded African-American taking him out as almost happened in 2006 when Bobby Henry challenged him and lost by about 2% of the vote. In 2010 Henry made another run for it, but without the funding Peters crushed him for reelection. That could change in the district proposed that makes 23A (the more white district) smaller and expands 23B (the more black district). To make matters more interesting 23A which currently has two delegates will lose one (we will talk about in a moment) and 23B will gain one (it currently has one and he is…black). Does this mean Peters might be out? No because Peters has a good relationship with many parts of his current African-American community and if he does his job right he will keep it, but it does put him on notice.
Delegate James Hubbard on the other hand is gone. Will he retire instead of fighting to keep his seat is the question but if 23A goes from two seats to one will in no way be able to fend off newly elected Delegate Valentino-Smith who crushed him in 2010 by over 6% of the vote. While the two of them ran on the same slate as Sen. Peters and 23B delegate Marvin Holmes, there was no secrete Smith and Hubbard hated each other and Peters preferred Smith over the elder statesman.
The movements to make District 27A a one member seat verses the current two seat and draw out Delegate Vallerio has taken many by surprised. Vallerio much like his senator Mike Miller who is president of the senate, has been in Annapolis forever. Miller also was a member of the committee that came out with this map. Vallerio is well liked by most in the delegation and despite his age still makes it around to events. He also chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee and giving up a chairmanship is not anything many in the county seem interested in doing. However that this move was made might mean that Vallerio has indicated to Miller he desired to step down.
In 2010 Delegate Doyle Niemann ran against the slate of Senator Victor Ramirez, Delegate Jolene Ivey, and newbie Delegate Michael Summers. He ran instead with Senator David Harrington. The Ramirez and Ivey team hasn’t trusted him since and when district 47 goes into an A/B district he can expect to not be on the ticket. In 2006 he lost to newcomer Jolene Ivey by almost 10% and barely beat the other incumbent Rosetta Parker by 3% to keep his seat. In 2002 he barely beat newcomer Victor Ramirez by almost 2% but the difference between him and the losing candidate in 4th place was only about 4%. In 2010, the most recent race he came in second place by beating newcomer Michael Summers with less than 3% of the vote after he was crushed again by Ivey with over 10% of the vote. It will not help him that when the district is split into an A/B seats with B having two and A having one, he will be in the B seat with Ivey and Summers with the A seat being drawn for a Hispanic.
How all of this plays out still depends on a few key things happening;
1) Will Governor Martin O’Malley accept this map as it is written? If he does and presents it to the General Assembly it will become law unless another map is passed by the chambers. That seems unlikely since both presiding officers served as members of the committee that drew this map.
2) If Martin O’Malley does send this map to the General Assembly, will there be enough blow back to pass another map?
3) Will this map stand up in court? From all appearances it will and no one has raised any serious legal questions to the map since it was released last week.
Governor O’Malley will hear comments concerning this map during a public hearing on December 22nd at 10AM in the Legislative Services Building at 90 State Circle in the Joint Hearing Room in Annapolis, MD 21401. Those requesting to speak may sign up in advance by clicking here. To review the map for yourself click here.
The Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee (GRAC) released the following press statement in announcing new legislative districts with 2 more majority black districts than the current 10. We have yet to review the maps but the full statement is below.
Have you heard of the Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund? If not then listen up. They are a new group of county residents who want to focus on doing one thing, making the county a better place to live, work and do business.
To be more specific their website describes the group by saying;
The Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund works as a catalyst for social impact. Its mission is to build social capital and invest in new approaches to solving social challenges in Prince George’s County.
Yesterday PGCSIF kicked off a new campaign called, Big Hopes for 2012 and they want you to get involved.
What is Big Hopes for 2012? Well it will provide a forum for county residents and leaders to share their hopes for the county and how everyone can work together to achieve that goal.
How do you participate?
Twitter- tweet your Big Hopes for 2012 to @PGCSIF with the hashtag #MyBigHope.
Facebook- share your big hope in 100 words or a 1 minute video on their facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Prince-Georges-County-Social-Innovation-Fund/151044664958626 (the link from the website is wrong)
Then what? Make sure you participate in the twitter town-hall on January 1st.
Learn more about this project and this fund on their website at http://innovateprincegeorges.org/
The Baltimore Sun has the following story on Delegate Tiffany Alston being charged with theft from the State of Maryland.
** Updated with Speaker Busch’s statement
Prince George’s County Del. Tiffany Alston was indicted this morning on charges that she arranged for the General Assembly to pay the salary of a employee in her private law practice.
Alston, a Prince George’s County lawmaker, is also facing charges that she misused her campaign fund by using political donations to buy a wedding dress.
The new charges were handed up this morning by an Anne Arundel County grand jury after an investigation by Maryland’s Office of the State Prosecutor. The prosecutors alleged that she had a $100-a-day clerk position added to her office payroll, which is funded by taxpayer dollars. The employee never worked in Annapolis, prosecutors say. Instead the individual was assigned to her law firm, authorities said. The prosecutors allege that $800 was stolen.
Alston denied any wrongdoing in the initial theft charges. (We are trying to get in touch with her on the latest ones, and will add her response.) Several lawmakers have said that she’s approached them to co-sponsor legislation auditing the state prosecutors office, which is charged with investigating lawmakers.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch Thursday requested that the Department of Legislative Services conduct biweekly “reviews” of Alston’s legislative account and “assume responsibility for verifying the time sheets of her legislative employees,” according to a statement from his office.
“While it is important to remember that Delegate Alston has not been convicted of a crime, I believe that the allegation of theft of state dollars warrants an immediate response to assure the public that legislative funds are being used appropriately by those who have been entrusted with them,” said Busch in a statement.
Other than the charges, Alston, a freshman delegate, is best known for an episode last session during the debate on same-sex marriage. She walked out of a House Judiciary Committee voting session on the bill and withdrew her support from the measure even though she initially co-sponsored it.
She, along with several other lawmakers, also walked out of a Legislative Black Caucus meeting in October. Their action denied the body the quorum needed to take a position on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed Congressional map.
If source reports are correct, Councilwoman Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale) is expected to be named chairman of the Prince George’s County Council today. Harrison previously served as Vice-Chair of the council and withdrew her campaign for chairman after Ingrid Turner (D-Greenbelt) locked up the five needed votes. Harrison is also chair of the Council of Governments which she is expected to give up in January when Frank Principi of Woodbridge takes over.
The County Council is expected to elect their new leadership today during their meeting at 11:00AM in Upper Marlboro.
Last night School Board Member Verjeana Jacobs (D-Bowie) was elected to her fifth term as chair of the Prince George’s County Board of Education. She was elected 9-1 with only Board Member Edward Burroughs voting no. Peggy Higgins (D-College Park) was elected to replace Donna Beck as Vice-Chair.
Other News Today- Former County Executive Jack Johnson is expected to be sentenced for his role in a wide ranging corruption scheme in Prince George’s County. His wife, former Councilwoman Leslie Johnson will be sentenced on Friday.
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) officially kicked off her campaign for reelection last night at her annual Christmas Party in Oxon Hill. Edwards will face off against former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey of Cheverly and possibly a member of the county council of Anne Arundel County.
In the lead up to announcing her run for reelection, Edwards has been circling the wagons for what could be her toughest campaign since unseating Al Wynn in 2008 during the Democratic primary. During the last two weeks Edwards has been endorsed by party leaders such as Sen. Ben Cardin and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. National progressive groups such as Bold Progressive PAC and the Sierra Club also have announced early endorsements for Edwards.