The below is my testimony at the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission hearing on September 29, 2015.
Good evening. My name is Tommi Makila. I live in Accokeek in Southern Prince George’s County.
I am a strong, dedicated Democrat. However, I detest blind partisanship and putting the interests of a political party—even if it is my own party—ahead of common good and good governance. When it comes to our gerrymandered congressional and legislative maps, I am embarrassed to be a Maryland Democrat. Thus, I am thankful that our Republican governor has established this Redistricting Reform Commission.
When it comes to the redistricting reform effort, I am not blind to the partisan reasoning Maryland Republicans have for wanting reform. However, I would like to point out to my Democratic friends that they should, in their own long-term interest, get behind the reform idea. If we Democrats continue our selfish political machinations at the expense of all Maryland residents, our now-dominant position in the state will eventually end. People will put up with bad governance only for so long. And, whatever happened to just doing the right thing?
Assuming we will reform our system of redistricting, what exactly should the new system look like? What I hear mostly from reform advocates is that we need to form some type of an independent commission that will wrangle over the new districts. If such a commission is formed and properly structured, it would surely be an improvement over the system we now have. However, I am afraid that the political fighting and power plays would only move from the Legislature to the commission. Knowing how powerful the Democratic political machine is in Maryland, I would expect the machine to figure out a way to influence the supposedly independent commission. Also, the redistricting process through a commission would likely be time-consuming, and possibly costly.
Instead of the independent commission model, I urge this Reform Commission to seriously consider a model similar to the one used in Iowa. I used to live in Iowa for ten years, so I am fairly familiar with their system. In Iowa, civil servants in the independent Legislative Services Agency use computers to generate the new maps. These maps must meet strict criteria when it comes to population, existing political boundaries, and other factors. Addresses of incumbent politicians are not allowed to be used in coming up with the maps. When these maps are generated, the Iowa legislature can vote the maps up or down. If they are voted down, new maps will be generated by the same civil servants, using the same criteria. If the legislature rejects three sets of maps, the final maps will be decided by the courts. To my knowledge, as long as Iowa has been using this system, the issue has never gone to the courts.
I believe the Iowa model has many advantages over the independent commission model. It truly removes the political wrangling from the process, as much as it is possible. It is very cost effective, requiring a minimal amount of resources and time. It is a system that utilizes modern mapping technologies, making us work smarter, not harder.
Thank you for your time.