As the Maryland special legislative session on congressional redistricting begins today, former NATO supreme allied commander and Democratic presidential candidate General Wesley Clark is calling on the legislature to follow Governor Hogan’s lead on ending gerrymandering in a Washington Post op-ed.
Maryland must lead on gerrymandering
General Wesley Clark
Across the nation, states are responding to the results of the 2020 Census by redistricting. Unfortunately, setting up districts so that each voter is equally represented has become another arena for partisan combat. In my home state of Arkansas, a Republican-controlled legislature has split Pulaski County among three congressional districts, apparently to marginalize African American voters. But turnabout isn’t fair play in this case. Maryland must do better.
Maryland will soon determine whether to become the next state to remove partisan politics from the redistricting process or whether to go further down the road of extreme gerrymandering. While Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has ceded his power to draw redistricting maps to a nonpartisan and independent commission of citizens that has drawn fair and competitive maps, the legislature’s panel of politicians has proposed making some of the worst-in-the-nation gerrymandered maps even more unfair and uncompetitive.
I’m a proud Democrat, and Hogan is a lifelong Republican. But this battle isn’t about partisan politics. This isn’t even about Maryland. This is about the future of our country. In this time of increasing partisan acrimony in America, we desperately need sensible nonpartisan policies to move our country forward, and partisan gerrymandering is perhaps the greatest impediment to making sure our democracy is working for the people.
Here is why partisan gerrymandering is such a grave threat to our nation’s future:
First, gerrymandering empowers extremism in both parties by creating noncompetitive districts in which politicians have to worry about winning only primary elections. In the 15 states that have approved new congressional district maps, the number of competitive districts where the 2020 presidential margin was within 5 percentage points has fallen from 23 to just 10. As a result, legislators are rewarded more for inflammatory rhetoric than working across the aisle to solve problems.
Second, gerrymandering diminishes minority representation because districts with high minority populations are often broken apart to reduce their voting power. As Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) has noted, Baltimore has been “chopped at” in this way for decades. This is just another egregious example of the suppression of the minority vote that has long been a stain on our democracy.
Third, gerrymandering rejects one of the core values and promises of our country: that politicians answer to the people, not the other way around. Partisan gerrymandering turns this formula on its head, with politicians picking their own voters and rigging elections to avoid accountability. This leads to a vicious cycle of distrust that erodes faith in our democracy.
We’ve often heard those in elected office make excuses and say it’s not their job to fix this problem. But the Supreme Court made it clear that this issue cannot be remedied just through the judicial branch. It’s going to take leaders on both sides of the aisle being willing to say the truth that gerrymandering is just plain wrong. What is so hard about Republicans and Democrats putting the sake of the country above personal and partisan advantage?
As a former supreme allied commander of Europe, I saw firsthand and worked against the threats to democracy in the Balkans and elsewhere in Europe. Today, the United States is facing even more severe challenges from abroad. Across the Atlantic, Russian President Vladimir Putin sees the weakness of a fractured American political system and does all he can to further divide us. He says democracy has failed and may set out to prove it by further military action in Ukraine. From China, Xi Jinping seems to think the sun is setting on America’s global leadership; he is increasingly impatient with a vibrant, democratic Taiwan.
A unified and less partisan United States is worth a dozen aircraft carriers or a hundred hypersonic missiles in deterring Russia in Eastern Europe and steering China away from conflict over Taiwan. We need this deterrence now — we cannot wait for more submarines, aircraft carriers or missiles while we squabble and fight at home over the very fundamentals of democracy.
In past generations, Marylanders such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass made America’s democracy more fair and more just through selfless and courageous leadership. With 35 states yet to finalize their redistricting maps, the rest of the nation will be watching the state of famously “middle temperament.” Once again, Maryland must lead. America’s future depends on it.