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October 12, 2011

The Maryland Redistricting Sweepstakes

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Many veteran political observers were taken aback when Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s redistricting commission released its proposed congressional redistricting plan late in the evening of October 3; especially those in Frederick and Carroll County.


For months concerns have been raised that Western Maryland’s 6th Congressional District would be targeted for gerrymandering in order to unseat 10-term veteran Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett.


Maryland Democrats currently hold six of Maryland’s eight seats in the House of Representatives. Incredibly, many political observers have held forth that 6-2 wasn’t enough for the majority-party.


On October 1, Aaron Davis opined in The Washington Post, “How far O’Malley (D) is willing to go to achieve that goal is now the question.”


Mr. Davis warned that “O’Malley and a cadre of the state’s top Democratic lawmakers are engaged in a secretive, final round of negotiations over whether to go further than expected and try to unseat not one but potentially both of Maryland’s Republican congressmen.”


"However, in a statement released October 4, Secretary Jeanne Hitchcock, the very bright and politically savvy chairman of the Advisory Committee, immediately got out in front of the issue by noting:"


“We have developed a plan that reflects the population shifts, demographics, and strengths of our State. Under the proposed plan, which builds off of the existing districts created in 2002, more than 70% of Marylanders will remain in their current Congressional district...”


The clash over the proposed congressional plan is sure not to disappoint political junkies when the Maryland General Assembly begins debate on the state’s legislative and congressional redistricting next Monday.


Maryland State Senator Joe Getty, (R., Carroll/ Baltimore), who 10-years ago successfully challenged in court the decennial redistricting plan proposed by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening, wrote on October 5: “The 6th Congressional District is significantly reconfigured under O'Malley's plan. In additional to the complete removal of Carroll County and the current portions of Baltimore and Harford counties, the proposal also removes a large section of Frederick County from the 6th District.


“In doing so, approximately 50% of population in the 6th Congressional District would now reside in Montgomery County.”


Senator Getty further observes:


“Westminster and the southern portion of Carroll County would be moved from the 6th Congressional District to the 8th currently represented by Congressman Christopher Van Hollen (D).


“While this portion of Carroll County would be joined with a large geographical area in Frederick County, the majority of the 8th Congressional District will remain in Montgomery County.


“Although these areas in Carroll and Frederick counties being removed from the 6th Congressional District are strongly conservative, they are being redistricted in the newly drawn 8th Cong. District of which 70% of the population resides in Montgomery.”


Writing in last Friday, veteran political observer Roy Meachum gave the redistricting story additional context when he wryly observed:


“For whatever reason, U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett tops (the Democrats’) hit list… (Y)ou might very well wonder why state Democrats chose him as a target…


“Despite the wholesale scalping GOP candidates enjoyed in 2010, Representative Bartlett staggered on to victory over ‘gimme’ competition. His prospects in 2012 look very dim at best, made dimmer by the Democrats carving the Sixth District in such a way that part of ‘liberal’ Montgomery County figures to make up a substantial share of his congressional district.”


Equally intriguing is the fact that although conservative, Western Marylanders have historically not really cared which party has represented them as long as they know the district.


In memory, conservative Democrats, Casper R. Taylor, Jr. served the district well in the Maryland General Assembly – especially as Speaker of the House from 1994 to 2003; and Goodloe and Beverly Byron, represented the district in Congress from 1971 to 1993.


Mr. Meachum’s savvy analysis overlooks one of Representative Bartlett’s overwhelming strengths. The congressman and his office staffers provide some of the best constituent service in memory – rivaled only by the attention to constituents provided by Democrat U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski’s office.


And there is the rub. Much of why voters in the 6th Congressional District go to Representative Bartlett’s office has nothing to do with partisan politics and everything to do with negotiating the withering byzantine processes of the federal government.


Many in Frederick and Carroll County are greatly concerned that Representative Van Hollen’s Montgomery County suburb orientation will not lend itself to the constituent service they have come to expect from a fellow rural and agriculture-knowledgeable Western Marylander – like Representative Bartlett.


Sarah Breitenbach quoted Maryland Sen. David R. Brinkley, who leads the Frederick County delegation, in a Gazette article: “There’s no community of interest between the inner Beltway communities and Thurmont and Emmitsburg. None whatsoever. This is political gerrymandering at its worst.”


To make matters worse, if that were possible, writer, Joe Charlebois says: “Imagine seven of Maryland’s eight congressmen living less than 20 miles from each other. Imagine the City of Baltimore not having a congressman in the House of Representatives. Imagine the congressman representing Oakland, MD, living in North Potomac or one from Chevy Chase representing Keymar or Taneytown.”


On Monday, Sen. Getty announced that he will introduce a bill during the special session of the General Assembly that preserves the current configuration of the 6th Congressional District…


Inasmuch as I have no interest in being represented by a partisan politician from Montgomery County – in the Maryland Redistricting Sweepstakes that begin next Tuesday, the smart money is with Secretary Hitchcock.


I’ve known Secretary Hitchcock for many years and Senator Getty for even longer. Both are distinguished, principled, knowledgeable and extraordinarily capable and competent, but with an overwhelmingly partisan Democrat-controlled General Assembly to back the secretary, the horses may be leaving the gate, but unless all the odd couples from the left and the right can forge a compelling alliance, the outcome is quite clear. We’re screwed. Pass the popcorn. It’s all over but the shouting.


. . . . .I’m just saying...


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