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June 17, 2002

The Last Tango For Parris

Lee Marshall

When it comes to big-time losses, only the late former Gov. Spiro T. Agnew can outdo Gov. Parris Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Agnew, a Republican, could at least boast of having been the 39th Vice President of the United States. He bailed out of Washington, D.C. when the court convinced him he was cornered.

The once gloating Gov. Glendening and his handpicked heiress apparent just tried too hard. The sweeping legislative redistricting plan, cornerstone of Glendening's legacy, fell on its crooked rear end last Tuesday with the entire document going in the landfill.

The governor was typically unrelenting in defeat, calling the decision "unprecedented." He stammered, "Great effort was taken to ensure that each district fairly and accurately reflected the interest of its citizens and caused as little disruption throughout the state as possible."

For the governor, his rhetoric is more of the same parry and thrust of the bayonet fighter. Be sincere as the blade penetrates the citizens' back and other sensitive areas. We'll see what losers the Glendening/Townsend budget passed this year makes of we poor suckers in the state, who can look forward to at least an $800 million deficit next year.

Give credit to imposing Chief Judge Robert M. Bell and the sitting judges of the Maryland Court of Appeals. They had the courage to throw out the redistricting plan, declaring, adjudging, and ordering that it is "not consistent with the requirements of Article III, Section 4 of the Constitution of Maryland."

Briefly said, it is unconstitutional!

The court didn't use the descriptive word "Gerrymandering" in its order, but agreed with every appeal Monday that the plan was certainly devised to provide a definite advantage to the Maryland Democratic Party.

Redistricting is an old ploy used by the party in power to get rid of pesky opponents. Gerrymandering was first identified in Massachusetts in 1812 when Gov. Eldridge Gerry pulled such a stunt and the district in the state's Essex County had the appearance of a salamander, thus "Gerry-Mander."

Gerrymandering is simply illegal. Governor Glendening knew it. So did Lt. Gov. Townsend, who comes from a family long on skullduggery. So did Senate President Mike Miller and four other state senators who made calls (illegally) to judges of the Court of Appeals regarding its deliberations on the "petitions filed by various registered voters of the State with this Court."

Judge Bell was mum on the subject of the phone calls in the announcement Tuesday, but he promised the opinion would be posted "later." The Court also said it would draw up a new plan itself, hopefully by the July filing deadline for office hopefuls.

There is no doubt the plan was designed to get rid of the pesky Republicans in Legislative District 3, covering half of Frederick County and contiguous portions of Washington County. The district is represented by Republican Senator Alex X. Mooney, and Delegates Louise Snodgrass and Joseph Bartlett. Del. Sue Hecht was the lone Democrat on the delegation. Republican Tim Ferguson (District 4) also represents portions of Frederick County, as do Delegates David Brinkley and Paul Stull.

The bold and brazen Glendening plan, which went into law when the General Assembly failed to act on it at the end of February, would have pitted Delegate Snodgrass, Delegate Paul Stull and Delegate Bartlett against each other with just two seats available and Democrats anxious to compete. That opened up two freebies for the Democrats to seek in the gerrymandered District 3A.

In March, a House of Delegates candidate was asked what the scenario would be if the court upheld the challenges to Glendening's plan. Would he be prepared to run in District 3, if that is restored?

The candidate smilingly said, "That won't happen." He had talked with his Democrat buddies in Annapolis including such knowledgeable sources as Speaker of The House of Delegates Casper Taylor and was assured any challenges from the squealing GOP would be silenced quickly.

The candidate was reminded that the GOP in Virginia had tried its own form of gerrymandering legislative districts and at the time the courts had determined that plan to be unconstitutional. Since then, portions of the plan have been restored.

"It won't happen here," we were told confidently.

There will probably be little change in the race for senator, Hecht challenging Mooney. It's like the recent heavyweight championship bout, which finally found a venue. The Hecht-Mooney fight will happen, the GOP scrapper against the Glendening Democrat.

Today the House of Delegates race looks like a gaggle of wanabees in the restored District 3. It will get sorted out, one would suppose. But right now the five Democrats who filed for the former District 3A are hanging in the proverbial breeze. The voters can't miss the message in this Glendening dud, and we will make this decision, not the party machinery in Annapolis and Baltimore.

There is disarray among the once confident liberal Democrats as we write. They went to the dance with Parris, the dance cards were filled out, but the tango became a Mexican two-step. How wrong they were when they said, "We'll always have Parris."

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