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Between the Lines: Rep. Trent Franks Thinks DOJ Overstepped Role

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) accused the Justice Department of overstepping its “efforts to shape the process” of redistricting in his home state.

“We’ve asked the department to clarify what their actions are in that regard,” Franks said in a phone interview last week. “It was a response to a belief on our part that they planned to shape that process.”

It’s not uncommon for Department of Justice staff to meet with officials in states that require preclearance of maps under the Voting Rights Act, such as Arizona. But Franks, chairman of a House Judiciary subcommittee that oversees federal civil rights, suggested the Justice Department had inappropriate influence in private meetings with Arizona officials.

Franks refused to provide details when pressed for more information about his concerns, saying, “I’m not sure I can tell you any more than that.” But he criticized the proposed changes to the map as the “worst-case scenario” for the GOP.

“We tried to draw one map that was our worst-case scenario, and it looked just like ours,” Franks said.

Franks is one of several Republican officials in Arizona who are angry about the proposed changes. There’s talk that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) could try to impeach the head of the committee, which would effectively start the redistricting process over again.

Arizona’s commission has 30 days to collect feedback on the map. Once it passes a final version, it must submit it to the Justice Department for preclearance before it is implemented.

Maryland: O’Malley Gets an Earful From Angry Members

Some House Members are not happy with the newly proposed Congressional map and, one by one, they are expressing their concerns to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) before the Legislature takes up the issue next week.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D) raised concerns about minority representation in Montgomery County and met Monday with the governor and members of his redistricting advisory panel.

But Edwards’ meeting did little to assuage her concerns. Calling the map “deeply flawed,” she told Roll Call on Tuesday: “The word unhappy does not adequately reflect what’s happening here.”

The Congresswoman joins a bipartisan group of colleagues in their discontent with the new map. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R), whose redrawn 6th district will assure him of his toughest race in years, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) met with O’Malley last week to express their concerns.

Edwards, in a written statement, charged that the redraw goes against a 1992 Supreme Court ruling and “undermines the common interests in the 4th CD that have been recognized by the highest court in the land.”

The current 4th district includes most of Prince George’s County, wraps around the D.C. line to the north, and then snakes northwest to include parts of Montgomery County. The new 4th still includes much of Prince George’s County but now swings northeast to Anne Arundel County, a more Republican area.

But the crux of Edwards’ grievance is Montgomery County, which is cut out of the 4th district completely in the proposed map. The new map makes it highly likely the county — with a sizable minority population, including African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians — will have three white Representatives.

O’Malley’s office responded to Edwards by confirming that the governor is considering the Congressional delegation’s comments.

“Districts 4 and 7 are still solidly African-American on the proposed map by the Committee,” O’Malley’s office said in a statement. “Additionally, there is still a strong African-American population in District 5 with no intent to divide the Hispanic and Asian votes. And with a competitive 6th District, Montgomery County will now have a significant minority population.”

But Edwards disagreed, calling the statement “absolutely not true.”

Meanwhile, the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee warned that Edwards might be primaried from the center in her new district. A PCCC email solicited supporters to contact the state Legislature to oppose the new map.

“Rep. Donna Edwards — one of the few bold progressives in Congress — is under attack,” the email stated. “Maryland’s state leadership may divide up Donna’s district. … If these new maps are approved, Donna’s progressive voice could be lost. The next Representative might be a more conservative Democrat.”

Edwards came to Congress by defeating a more moderate Democrat, then-Rep. Al Wynn, in the 2008 primary. Edwards’ office denied that fear of a primary was a factor in her concern.

“The Congresswoman’s opposition to the map has nothing to do with a primary challenge,” an Edwards spokesman said. “Her opposition concerns political interests superseding minority voting rights interests. As a one-time primary challenger, Congresswoman Edwards understands it is part of the democratic process and not a cause for concern.”

The committee’s draft map serves as a recommendation to O’Malley but is not binding. The governor can make adjustments prior to submitting it to legislators during Monday’s special session.

Nevada: New Map Due by End of Next Week

Democrats and Republicans continued to argue this week whether the Voting Rights Act mandates that one of the state’s four Congressional districts must be majority-minority, but it’s now up to three court-appointed special masters to draw the new map.

During two days of public hearings Monday and Tuesday with the special masters in Las Vegas and Carson City, Democrats maintained their stance that Latino voters should not be packed into one district, as it would actually lessen their voting power. Republicans disagreed, arguing for one majority-minority district, according to local reports.

Both arguments would also help the parties politically, as Republicans hope for a 2-2 split in the delegation and Democrats want two safe districts plus one competitive district, allowing for a 3-1 edge.

With the hearings concluded, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported the special masters now have until Oct. 21 to complete Congressional and state legislative maps. On Nov. 16, District Judge James Russell will either accept the maps as drawn or ask for revisions.

Nevada gained a Congressional seat through reapportionment. The Democratic-controlled Legislature passed two redistricting plans, both of which were rejected by Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) before the process ended up in the courts.

Colorado: Court Proceedings Begin for New Lines

The redistricting stalemate began to work its way through the Denver District Court on Tuesday.

The Colorado Legislature failed to agree on a new map earlier this year, which means that the court will redraw the Rocky Mountain State’s Congressional map for the fourth time in four decades.

Witness testimony was “often dry and combative,” according to the Denver Post. Republicans pushed for a status quo map that does not drastically change the current Congressional boundaries. Democrats prefer to make more changes to the map, including creating a new competitive district.

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