In author Jabari Asim's fictionalized St. Louis -- the 'Gateway City' first introduced in his short story collection 'A Taste of Honey' –- characters come to grips with the fallout of the civil rights era in surprising ways. We talk with Asim about the fictional world he created and examine the realities of how we deal with race in America today.
After the 2010 Census, Maryland’s Democratically-controlled General Assembly re-drew congressional districts — and Republicans cried foul. Now, as candidates vie to represent the newly-shaped districts, voters will decide whether to send the map back to the drawing board. Kojo explores what’s at stake in Maryland and in Congress.
- Aaron Davis Washington Post Maryland Politics Reporter
- David Lublin Professor of Government in the School of Public Affairs at American University and the author of “The Paradox of Representation: Racial Gerrymandering and Minority Interests In Congress,” (Princeton University Press, 1999).
Map Of Maryland 2011 Congressional Districts
In the fall of 2011, Maryland enacted a new congressional districting plan based on census data collected in 2010. Question 5 on Maryland’s November ballot asks voters to weigh in on whether to keep these boundaries.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the implications of the ballot initiative, the Maryland DREAM Act, but, first, one judge described the map of Maryland's new congressional districts as a Rorschach-like eyesore. Some people say District 3 looks like an amoeba convention.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAfter the 2010 census, Maryland's predominantly Democratic lawmakers redrew the state's eight congressional districts, aiming to pick up another seat for Democrats by dislodging one of Maryland's two Republican Congress members. The map has already been challenged and upheld in court. Next week, Maryland voters will weigh in. Question 5 on the state ballot asks whether to keep the map or to send it back to the drawing board.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn this highly partisan era, some called the map blatant gerrymandering. Others say Democrats didn't go far enough and could have picked up two new seats rather than just one. Joining me to look at the choice facing Maryland voters and the impact it will have in Congress is Aaron Davis. He is Maryland political reporter with The Washington Post. Aaron, good to see you again.
MR. AARON DAVISThank you.
NNAMDIAlso with us is David Lublin. He's a professor of government at American University and author of "The Paradox of Representation: Racial Gerrymandering and Minority Interests in Congress." David, also good to see you again.
PROF. DAVID LUBLINThanks.
NNAMDIYou can join the conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Aaron, could you explain what the new congressional districts look like and what the dispute is about which districts are considered the worst offenders here?
DAVISWell, it will be hard to draw you a picture of some of these, unfortunately. They're not blocks. They're not squares. They're not circles. One of the judges, yes, in that case, described it as a pterodactyl-dinosaur shaped. The -- here's the issue: Maryland has eight congressional districts. And as every state did last year, they came in the special session and drew new districts.
DAVISIn Maryland, there are currently six controlled by Democrats and two by Republicans, and the idea, yes, is to unseat Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in the far western part of the state, traditionally a conservative part of the state, 10-term congressman. If all goes according to Democrats' plan, he will be out, and a Democratic candidate, John Delaney, will be in. They'll pick up one more seat for Democrats in the House and give them one more, you know, bullet in their war to try retake control of the Congress.
NNAMDIYou can see the map at our website, kojoshow.org. Decide on the shapes for yourself. If you like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. How do you feel about the redistricting in Maryland? Do you live in a district where your congressperson is facing a tough challenge? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIDavid, the redistricting thing could mean Democrats will gain another seat in Congress, giving them seven of the state's eight seats. But some people say Maryland Democrats didn't go far enough that they could and should have tried to make all eight Maryland congressional districts safe for Democrats. Could they have done that?
LUBLINThey could have. With creative line drawing, almost anything is possible. Some political analysts, like Charlie Cook who's a great nonpartisan guy, lives nearby in Chevy Chase, pointed out that the Republicans had actually been much more aggressive in North Carolina and in other states versus the Democrats, tried to get just one here.
LUBLINI should point out that this district actually is viewed as now being more competitive than the former district that Maryland will actually now maybe have a swing district, if you will, with the 6th district. But, you know, it certainly does lean a bit Democratic, and I think it's one of the big Democratic hopes for this cycle.
NNAMDIThat's Roscoe Bartlett's district, the 6th District?
NNAMDIAnd it's now a swing district, but that clearly could not have been their intention when they drew it. He just seems to be running better in that district than they anticipated?
LUBLINNo. Actually, I think they drew it to be a slight Democratic district. They didn't draw it to be more than that, maybe to help out the other Democrats. I don't know. The odd thing is that the 6th District that's much talked about resembles the 6th District from the 1980s. And while a bit odd, it's mainly oddly-shaped due to the geography of the state.
LUBLINThe really oddly shape districts are in the center of the state, as Aaron pointed out, the 3rd District that just squiggles through Baltimore County, Balance City, Howard, Anne Arundel. And in Anne Arundel, it has to jump creeks or rivers to connect Annapolis to the rest of the district and even to a big chunk of Montgomery.
NNAMDIAaron, who are the supporters and opponents of the redistricting measure? Is this a high-profile contest at a time when Maryland voters are also contemplating gambling, same-sex marriage and a DREAM Act?
DAVISIt's not -- it's the least known probably of the major ballot. There are even lesser known ballot measures, but this one is the least one -- the least well-known and because of that there's been a little of an X-factor: What will happen on Election Day? We probably know the least about what are they thinking about this. Some of the polling that's been done informally says most people just haven't thought about it and haven't looked at it.
DAVISMaybe a third of the state might be undecided, you know, throw out a couple other things too. We also don't know what this actually does if it's upended. If the map is voted against, theoretically, there's nothing stopping the Maryland legislature from coming back into session and passing almost an identical version of the map next time. The opponents could only petition the existing law to referendum.
DAVISThey can't say here's our proposal instead. We think they should go to a commission, a bipartisan commission that some states have. So this would just upend the laws as it is. It won't upend these elections. These elections would take place. The results will be valid. These people would be in office for the next two years.
NNAMDISo it's entirely possible that if this is voted down and they come up with a similar map, then we could be looking at another initiative in the next round of elections and on and on and on?
LUBLINI was going to say this happened several decades ago. Back when Maryland was terribly mal-apportioned and Montgomery County was really underrepresented or the Washington suburbs more broadly, voters in the Washington suburbs repeatedly voted down congressional maps because they didn't give them enough representation vis-à-vis the rest of the state. So all this has happened before, and all of it will happen again, to quote "Battlestar Galactica."
NNAMDIWell, an editorial in The Washington Post labels Maryland the worst gerrymandered state in the country. It says a nonpartisan study of compactness puts four of Maryland's eight districts among the 25 worst in the U.S. How do political scientists evaluate whether a district makes sense?
LUBLINWell, that's an interesting question. One can look at compactness, and certainly looking at the compactness of these districts, one measure which is comparing the area of the district to the smallest circle that can enclose it, for example, is one way of doing that. But I point out you can have a heavy gerrymandered map with pretty districts. A lot of it depends on the geography of the state, both in terms of its political distribution of the voters.
LUBLINThe Democrats really lose out because their voters are hyper-concentrated in Maryland and Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore City. The Democrats have effectively tried to unpack them, if you will, and spread them out, but I think most people could certainly agree that they've done so in a very non-compact fashion that where these districts are extremely erose and squiggly, and no one is going to claim they're pretty.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about redistricting in Maryland that will be showing up on your ballot if you happen to be voting in Maryland next week. We're talking with David Lublin. He's a professor of government at American University and author of "The Paradox of Representation: Racial Gerrymandering and Minority Interests in Congress."
NNAMDIHe joins us in studio, along with Aaron Davis, who is Maryland political reporter with The Washington Post. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you think Democrats or Republicans are worst offenders when it comes to redistricting? Here is Jeffrey in Washington, D.C. Jeffrey, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JEFFREYHow you doing, Kojo? Love the show. I had, I guess, a comment more than a question. I'm originally from Arkansas, recently relocated to this area within the last two years to Silver Spring, Md. And I must say that I, you know, love being in a blue state now. But, generally speaking, I'm against the idea of gerrymandering.
JEFFREYUnderstand that in Arkansas, there are certain districts that are carved out to allow for, you know, a minority candidate to have a better chance. Overall, I guess, I feel like it dilutes the political process to have either party playing around with the electoral map, particularly to the extent that I feel like Maryland has done.
JEFFREYHowever, I'm still hesitant to vote against the map because I just kind of feel like maybe it's very helpful for my party and that the manner in which it would be changed would hinder my party. So I kind of don't want to vote against my party, but at the same time, I don't like the idea of what -- of playing around with the electoral process in that way. I think it's inappropriate, but at the same time in reality, both parties do it, and it seems like it will be very helpful.
NNAMDIDavid Lublin, Jeffrey seems to be having a crisis between ethics and partisanship. Can you assist him in some way?
LUBLINWell, first, I'd like to say I think he's summed up the partisan dilemma faced by Democrats perfectly and expressed it wonderfully. What's interesting about this is that in this cycle Republicans control the redistricting in about 200-odd districts, Democrats in slightly less than 50. So both parties are certainly doing it, though the other thing I'd point out that's a bit odd about the whole thing is you could have a very nonpartisan process, like they do in the United Kingdom.
LUBLINBut the plan could still be biased because just because you have a fair process doesn't mean you have a fair result. The maps in the U.K. are very favorable to the Labour Party and biased against the conservatives even though they're done by this very fair British system.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jeffrey. Aaron, no matter how the vote goes on redistricting, who are likely to be the biggest winners and losers in the districts as they stand for next week's election?
DAVISOh, it depends who you ask. I guess, you know, the opponents in the larger scheme of things would say that the voters, the public, democracy loses out in some way because you - what's the upshot here? You do have districts that are being drawn in a way so that they are either very comfortable for a Democrat or very comfortable for a Republican. And whether that's happening in Maryland or Texas or North Carolina, in the primary process, it's along those elections to be driven towards the extreme that the most extreme position wins.
DAVISAnd then when people get to Congress, they have -- there are little moderate voices left and fewer people to compromise. That's what the opponents would say. You know, if you get down to the nitty-gritty here, yeah, John Delaney in District 6 will benefit. You know, in the flipside, to make that district competitive for Democrats, Andy Harris is not considered perhaps a congressman for life on the eastern shore because they made his district comfortable, so...
NNAMDIAnd that used to be a swing district.
DAVISRight. And just the last time around, two years ago.
DAVISYou know, you do have to realize politicians play with fire a little bit in redistricting. Ten years ago, the state was split four and four, four Democratic, four Republicans. The idea was to get a couple of the -- couple more seats for Democrats. They did so. But, in fact, half the incumbents lost in the next round, so things do change with redistricting.
DAVISI would say that there were competition interests in the capitol on the nights that this was going around and they were -- well, the months that they were going around and started deciding this map don't lose sight of the fact that Congressman Hoyer, the House minority whip, Congressman Ruppersberger, the ranking member on intelligence, Congressman Van Hollen, the ranking member on budget, are all Maryland lawmakers, all want, you know, relatively safe districts to run in for reelection.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Diana in Montgomery County, Maryland. Diana, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DIANAHi. Thank you. I think I just heard one of your commentators make part of my point which was that gerrymandering is certainly an equal opportunity sport. But my particular comment was specifically having -- comes from early voting at the county executive's office. The phrasing of the question on the ballot is so pleasant and neutral and inoffensive that, unless somebody have actually done a little bit of homework, they're not going to have any idea that they're being asked whether or not to refuse a not pretty map.
NNAMDIDiana, allow me to read the phrasing of Question 5. It says on the ballot measure: Question 5 establishes the boundaries for the state's eight United States congressional districts based on recent census figures as required by the Constitution. For the referred law, a yes vote upholds the new districts against the referred law. A no vote sends the map back to be redrawn. So, yes, it sounds deceptively neutral. It simply says, as required by the United States Constitution. Is that what you think people might find confusing, Diana?
DIANAI think that a lot of people will not know what they're being asked. I think also, most people are used to being asked yes and no questions and before and against is also a little bit off. I've had a couple of friends -- you know, we've had this conversation. So it's not exactly helpful to the electorate if clarity was the purpose.
NNAMDIWell, while we're on the topic of this, let me remind our listeners that you can find a personalized list of candidates and ballot measures using our WAMU voter guide. You can type in your address and the guide gives you a list of the races on your ballot. The list includes everything from the presidential race and state contest to local match-ups for school board and local referenda. The voter guide allows you to compare candidate's positions, policy proposal, side by side.
NNAMDIYou can print them out, do your homework and take them with you to the polls next week. You can log on to wamu.org/elections and learn more about the issues affecting your community. Diana, thank you very much for your call. Congresswoman Donna Edwards has complained that new district map could result in Montgomery County, which is majority-minority, being represented by three white men. Is there still opposition to the map on racial grounds, Aaron?
DAVISThere is some. It's not widespread, and there's a grassroots group based in Prince George's County that has remained vocally opposed. There are some lawmakers in Montgomery County who have also banded together, held a news conference a couple of weeks ago, saying that they oppose this. I think you are right. If you're an Asian-American living in Northern Montgomery County or a Hispanic voter in Takoma Park and you look at your options of who to vote for, they are all white men.
DAVISAnd that -- you know, that's rubbing some minorities the wrong way. If you look at the longer track of redistricting, usually they allow for, you know, pockets of minorities that are gaining traction. First, elect a state lawmaker, and then, you know, when they get to a certain threshold, you start to see those candidates bubble up under the state level. And there's also questions about whether -- allows for that in Annapolis as well. The state lawmakers say that they're districts have been gerrymandered as well.
NNAMDIAnd the decision that upheld this, David, seem to suggest, well, they were -- they do look weird, but they didn't do it for racial reasons. They did it for partisan reasons, so we can't say that it is -- that it's racial. And that's one of the reasons it was upheld.
LUBLINThat's right. And essentially what the Voting Rights Act core requirement here was that you cannot retrogress a minority representation. And you had in the old plan and in the new plan two districts likely to elect African-Americans. I think Aaron made a really great point earlier that there's often a lot of different interests running around of these plans.
LUBLINAnd, you know, regarding Congresswoman Edwards and the District, I think part of her concern was she had done very well in the Montgomery County portion of her district that is now gone from her district and was concerned that she might have trouble in her primary challenge. She's, I think, still opposed to the map but have been less vocal since she's won renomination.
LUBLINAnd, you know, regarding Hispanics and Asians, I don't know that there's -- we can assume that Hispanics and Asians are necessarily better represented by an African-American than by a white person, or for that matter, by a person of their own race or -- and bear in mind that, you know, racial minorities are winning increasing numbers of elections in Montgomery County, including our county executive Ike Leggett, who's African-American and won two terms very handily.
NNAMDIOn to Randy in Garrett Park, Md. Randy, your turn.
RANDYHi there. Thanks for taking my call. I have two quick comments and -- hold on one second -- two quick comments and a question. One comment has to go to your hyper-partisanship, and I just wanted to also point out that you could say what you want about Tea Party representatives. They are representing -- and that's what happens with a lot of gerrymandering is that these districts are becoming so homogenous. It becomes very easy for these representatives to make their decisions.
RANDYAnd, you know, a more a balanced district, of course, requires the representatives do a bit more thinking, I think. The other comment I was going to have had to do with Montgomery County Democratic sample ballot, which, you know, typically votes for all the Democratic opinions as far as all the Democratic candidates. One glaring omission is it's a position on this particular redistricting question. It leaves that question blank and takes no position on that.
RANDYMy question was anything your guests might know about the Iowa or California neutral redistricting and how well they might be working.
NNAMDIDavid Lublin, on the neutral redistricting in California and Iowa?
LUBLINThere are potentially better ways to do this. What Iowa has is essentially its bureaucracy draft plans, which are then submitted, however, to the legislature for approval or disapproval. But that, at least, puts it in the hands of someone non-partisan and maybe puts pressure on the legislators to do it that way. Iowa is maybe a bit easier to carve up with all those nice square counties. California recently, by initiative, also adopted a better form of doing this through a non-partisan commission.
LUBLINAnd that seems to have resulted in a plan which, ironically, the Democrats may benefit from but also seems to create fewer partisan lock-ups. And so we may get more swing districts precisely because they won't do what they did in the last decade which is the Democrats and Republicans divvy up the districts. Though I would point out that in Maryland, actually, the gerrymandering, such as it is, has probably made the district's unbalance more swingy rather than more hyper-partisan for one party or the other because that's what you have to do in order to try and win more districts.
NNAMDIFinally, this question for both of you, since a majority of voters probably have not seen the map of the new districts, and as I mentioned earlier, you can find the map at our website, kojoshow.org, what are the biggest influence -- outside of our website -- in how they're likely to vote? First you, Aaron.
DAVISWell, David and I were just talking about this before we came on the air that the -- if you look at the ballot -- well, you're right, if you -- which we read earlier, the ballot language, I'm -- it's not clear to me that your average reader, you're average passive, you know, consumer of politics in Maryland would understand what they're voting on. They never paid attention in the district in the first place. They definitely wouldn't. So if someone walks into the ballot and reads it for the first time, how will they vote? I'm not sure.
DAVISIf they're part of a coalition all voting for and against, that may help push things one way or the other. I do think that there's a grassroots effort, very limited, to vote against this. Whether that enough to turn the tide, I'm not sure. There's actually a rally tonight that I'm going to to vote no on everything. So we'll see how many people are there.
NNAMDIDave Lublin, what do you say?
LUBLINWhat's interesting, as Aaron said, is that it is a bit under the radar. And as your previous caller pointed out, the wording is somnolent to say the least. But there are a lot of Democratic activists as well as Republicans who don't like this. And that's why the Democratic precinct officials made no recommendation on a plan that was ardently favored by a Democratic governor and legislature. So I think that's interesting.
LUBLINOne thing that may help the plan is that the pro-expanded gambling people are playing to run the equivalent of a campaign saying vote yes on everything in the hopes that that will sweep their preferred initiative into office. And so, you know, we may have to see sort of how sophisticated the voters are. The post-editorial attacking this certainly helps the no side and the lack of a yes vote on the Democratic sample ballot in Montgomery. But I think we'll just have to see. I'm very curious to see how this turns out.
NNAMDIThose are the most important words. We'll just have to see. David Lublin is a professor of government at American University and author of the book "The Paradox of Representation: Racial Gerrymandering and Minority Interests In Congress." David, thank you for joining us.
LUBLINThank you so much.
NNAMDIAaron Davis is Maryland political reporter with The Washington Post. Have fun at the rally tonight.
NNAMDIThank you for joining us. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll look at another of the initiatives on the ballot in Maryland, the Maryland DREAM Act. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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