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bob maginnnis 3/11/01

March 09, 2001

Legislative redistricting: Can it boost Washington County's clout?



By Bob Maginnis


Ten years ago, after Frederick County Del. James "Doc" McClellan almost dared Washington County's General Assembly delegation to oppose his plan to have 21,000 people in the northeastern part of this county represented by delegates who would be elected, for the most part, by Frederick County citizens, I reasoned that such an outcome might not be such a bad thing.

My feeling then was that Frederick County's voters were more sophisticated people who could put up with the rough edges on someone like McClellan because they knew he had the clout in Annapolis to see that their area's needs were taken care of.

Despite a last-minute effort run by former delegate Paul Muldowney and local businessman Vince Dellaposta, Frederick County prevailed. But instead of the second coming of McClellan, now we've got state Sen. Alex Mooney and Del. Joe Bartlett. All right, to be fair, we've got Del. Sue Hecht as well, but we may lose her, in part because Republican Mooney has made himself so unpopular with the governor and the General Assembly leaders.

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Mooney opened the session by opposing the re-election of Thomas V. "Mike" Miller as state senate president. Last year he challenged the gay rights bill pushed by Gov. Parris Glendening, whose homosexual brother had to conceal his sexual orientation during his career in the armed forces. Mooney not only opposed the bill, but made it sound as if the proponents were mounting an attack on the traditional family.

The fate of Mooney and his District 3 colleagues will probably involve re-drawing that legislative district to give them a few precinccts in upper Montgomery County, where they'd be vulnerable to less conservative challengers. They could, of course, appeal the plan, but that would take time and resources.

The redistricting process begins April 1, when the state gets updated numbers from the 2000 census. The man in charge will be Karl Aro, executive director of the Maryland Department of Legislative Reference.

How political will the process be? In a December 2000 interview with Herald-Mail's Laura Ernde, Aro said his first step will be to meet with House Speaker Casper Taylor and Senate President Miller to find out what their "political goals" are.

If you're wondering whether the process of equalizing legislative districts so that every person's vote carries the same clout - it's called the "one-man, one vote principle" - yes, playing politics with this process is legal.

After consulting with everyone who's got an interest in how things go down, Aro will draw the lines on the map, the governor will appoint a task force and the General Assembly will approve it during their 2002 session.

Aro said in December that there probably aren't enough people to create a single-member district in the northeastern part of the county, so it might take a concerted effort by local citizens to get that accomplished.

Former delegate Muldowney, who co-chaired the effort to get such a district 10 years ago, says he's counting in Del. Hecht, who promised she'd work for such a plan, to get it done.

The 22,000 people now represented by people in Frederick County should have their own representative, Muldowney said, in part because Frederick County has two state senators to Washington County's single one.

"It would take somebody like her (Hecht) to get it done," Muldowney said, because "I think her will will prevail and Cas (Taylor) will listen to her first."

Whatever happens, I look at who Frederick has elected in the past 10 years and with the exception of Hecht and the now-retired Del. Anita Stup, I see people like Del. Bartlett, who are less concerned with the give-and-take, horse-trading aspects of the legislative process than they are with maintaining ideological and/or political purity.

For each local project ranked as important, it seems that it takes a long time and a herculean effort to make it a reality. The upgrade of Halfway Boulevard's Interstate 81 interchange and intersection improvements at Eastern Boulevard and U.S. 40 were hung up for five years in the early 1990s, in part because the delegation wouldn't lend its support to the revenue-raising measures needed in those days prior to the big state surpluses.

My mistake 10 years ago was hoping that someone in another county would pull Washington County's fat out of the fire, so to speak, sparing me from taking local legislators for task for the fact that while they've perfected their constituent- service operations, they haven't worked hard enough at becoming lawmakers to be reckoned with in the state capital.

Shame on me for not saying that, or for reminding readers regularly that for a sparsely populated rural area, compromise in Annapolis is a requirement, not an option.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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