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Hogan vetoes 'phony' redistricting bill; lawmakers call it ‘true, non-partisan solution’

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, center, signs a bill between Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, left, and House Speaker Michael Busch during a bill signing ceremony following the state's legislative session at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Md., Tuesday, April 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday vetoed a congressional redistricting reform bill he described as "phony," because it requires five other states to agree before it would take effect.

The Republican governor said the bill passed by the Democrat-controlled legislature was a "smoke screen," because there's little chance of all six states agreeing to the compact.

"Instead of choosing fairness and real nonpartisan reform, they pushed through a phony bill masquerading as redistricting reform," Hogan said at a news conference. "It was nothing more than a political ploy designed with one purpose in mind and that was to ensure that real redistricting reform would never happen in Maryland."

Hogan has submitted legislation in each of his three years as governor to turn the task of drawing congressional and state legislative districts over to an independent board. The bill has not moved forward. This year, the General Assembly passed legislation to change only Maryland's congressional redistricting process if New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina also agree in a compact to let an independent board decide the districts.

"It is disappointing Governor Hogan chose to veto the nonpartisan Mid-Atlantic Redistricting Compact that could help fix a broken Congress," House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said in a joint statement. "Today's veto reveals that, instead of supporting a true, nonpartisan solution that could restore accountability and cooperation to Washington, Governor Hogan prefers his plan to simply elect more Republicans to Congress."

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland 2-1. Both of the state's U.S. senators are Democrats. Maryland has seven Democrats and one Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Under the current system in Maryland, the governor and state legislators have a role in drawing maps for both congressional and state legislative districts every 10 years. Critics say that enables politicians in power to craft the maps to their liking, instead of in consideration for the people represented.

The bill passed in the Senate 30-16, and the Senate would need 29 votes to override the veto. The bill passed 87-51 in the House, which would need 85 votes to override the veto. The General Assembly's next regular session isn't scheduled to begin until January.

State Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, said he supported the governor's approach to reform.

"I think this is about them, the voters, picking us, rather than us picking them, and I know we can do better," Brochin said at the news conference with Hogan.

Alexander Williams, a retired federal judge who co-chaired the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission brought together by the Hogan administration, said the bill passed by the legislature "is not sufficient. " He noted that Maryland's congressional map is being challenged in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Former Gov. Martin O'Malley, Busch and Miller, who are all Democrats, have provided depositions in the case.

"So, it's not going away, and we should not wait," Williams said.

Plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit allege that state officials redrew Maryland's congressional districts in 2011 based on party registration and voting histories. They're asking a three-judge panel to prevent the state from enforcing its current congressional map. Attorneys expected a bench trial this summer.

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