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Political tables turn on redistricting decision

June 12, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

If the Maryland Court of Appeals decides to redraw Washington County's legislative district boundaries, it could change the political landscape this fall.

Incumbents like Del. Robert A. McKee and Del. Christopher B. Shank may not have to run against each other in the Republican primary after all.

And political newcomers who thought they were pursuing an open seat may suddenly find themselves up against an incumbent.

The court threw out Gov. Parris Glendening's plan Tuesday and will prepare its own plan on an unknown timetable. There's no indication of how sweeping the changes will be.

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Elected officials and candidates said they were stunned by the ruling, which came less than a month before the candidate filing deadline.

Sen. Donald F. Munson was one of several elected officials attending meetings in Annapolis when the buzz about the decision traveled through the hallways.

"There's never a dull moment in Maryland politics. It's a wide-open situation now throughout the state. Most anything could happen," said Munson, R-Washington.

"They can't make me run in Pennsylvania, can they?" Munson joked.

Democrats speculated there would only be minor changes, if any, to the Western Maryland portion of the plan. Most of the court challenge centered around districts near Baltimore and on the Eastern Shore.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said he's confident that the Washington County map will remain similar to Glendening's proposed plan.

"It may do nothing more than extend the filing deadline," said Paul Gilligan of Burkittsville, a candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates in District 3B, which as proposed covered southern Frederick and Washington counties.

Peter E. Perini Sr., Democratic candidate in Washington County District 2A, said he hopes the court's plan preserves the right of voters in northeastern Washington County to be represented by a county resident. For the last 10 years they have been part of a Frederick County, Md., district.

"There's a lot of work to be done in a very short amount of time. I hope it's done thoughtfully," Perini said.

Republicans applauded the court's decision.

"The Democrats got a little too greedy," McKee said.

Shank also supported the lawsuit, although he said he was not unhappy with the way his own legislative district was drawn. Ideally, he said he would like to see a plan where every Washington County voter is represented by a county resident.

"I'm going to run no matter where they put me," Shank said.

Any changes that are made to Washington County legislative districts would most likely concern District 3, which stretches into Frederick County.

Before making its ruling, the court heard arguments from Del. Joseph Getty, R-Carroll, that District 3 is not compact and was drawn in order to defeat as many incumbent Republicans as possible.

"The governor was using an impermissible partisan rationale that in effect was political gerrymandering," Getty said.

The district lies mostly in Frederick County and fishhooks into Washington County to take in the prison population south of Hagerstown.

Getty has presented the court with an alternate plan that would keep all of District 3 within the Frederick County border.

It would keep Shank in District 2B and put McKee in District 2A, his current legislative district.

If that happens, at least one of the political newcomers who have filed in District 2A said he will drop out.

Republican William J. Wivell said Tuesday he would run for a second term as a Washington County Commissioner instead. Wivell said he receives phone calls daily from people asking him to run for County Commissioner instead of a state seat.

Vikki Nelson, Republican candidate for District 2A, said she'll be watching the situation closely.

"My hope, obviously, is that it does not change my unencumbered district," she said.

Under Getty's plan, District 1 that begins in Allegany County would stretch farther east into Washington County, as far as the Conococheague Creek.

The decision leaves many candidates with questions about how to proceed with their campaigns.

"There are some of us who are waiting to plan campaigns and elections. We are just waiting to hear what field we're playing on," McKee said.

Del. Sue Hecht, who is trying to unseat Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said she might delay some mailings to Washington County portions of the district because of the uncertainty.

"I'm anxious to know what my district is. We're in the midst of a campaign," said Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

Richard B. Weldon Jr. of Brunswick, Md., a Republican running in District 3B, said he will be disappointed if Washington County is separated from the district.

But Sharpsburg Mayor Sidney Gale said he would prefer the town, which is part of District 3B in Glendening's plan, be put back into Washington County.

Staff writers Scott Butki and Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.

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