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Ironically, Washington County pays a price for state Democrats' arrogance

June 30, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

In the Bible of Maryland Democrats is the verse: "What the governor hath created, let no judge put asunder."

Last week the judges asundered.

The court redrew the state's legislative boundaries, after concluding that those handed down by the governor last winter were politically inspired and contorted to the point of illegality.

This was something of a shock. Minority parties always sue over redistricting plans and they always lose. Except that this time they didn't.

Still, when the courts declared the governor's plan indefensible last month, conventional wisdom had it that the judges might tinker with some of the Baltimore area's districts, but would never extend the long arm of the bench into the hinterlands like Washington County which, to people sitting in the City of Baltimore, may or may not exist.

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But as fate would have it, just when you do not want to be noticed, you are.

The judges totally wrecked some crackling good races for us, as well as dimmed the hopes for some fresh and promising new faces.

Clear Spring resident LeRoy Myers, for example, is keeping a stiff upper lip about being lumped in the same district with House Speaker Cas Taylor instead of running for delegate in a newly created district with no incumbent - as he would have under the governor's plan.

But Myers, a smart and motivated Republican who showed promise as a man who would effectively fight for Washington County's interests, must know that his chances of victory have dimmed considerably.

There are rumblings of discontent with Taylor in Allegany County, and the new plan presents him with even more conservative, western Washington County voters to contend with. But Taylor didn't rise to be Speaker of the House by backing down from new challenges.

When he represented a part of Washington County prior to 1993, he was quite generous to Hancock, and he's in a position to take Myers' own Clear Spring under his wing too.

A couple months ago, the drought dried up Clear Spring's namesake town well. If you suddenly hear about a new state $13 million Clear Spring Well Rewatering Program and Convention Center, you'll know what happened.

And what of Commissioner Bill Wivell, who was looking to jump from county to state office? His views are in touch with many northern Washington County residents, but now the people won't have a chance to put him in the State House; this week Wivell announced he was pulling out of the delegate race and will instead seek re-election to the county post.

Redistricting also throws a wrench into the plans of Vikki Nelson (although the odds were long to begin with) who would be worth seeing in Annapolis if only to drive Sen. Don Munson bonkers. My dream team in Annapolis would have been Munson, Nelson and former Hagerstown Mayor Bob Bruchey. We would have to change the name from the Washington County Delegation to the Washington County Conflagration.

The court also botched what promised to be one of the best Washington County races in recent memory, between sitting Republican delegates Chris Shank and Bob McKee, whom Gov. Paris Glendening had lumped into the same district.

Aside from being a good race, it would have good for Washington County. Both are nice guys, but frankly one of them is enough. The prospect of one less shrinking violet like McShank in Annapolis and in exchange for a fighter like Myers was appealing. But no more, since the courts basically gave Shank and McKee their own districts back.

McKee will land an interesting challenge from Democrat Peter Perini. Perini logged a lot of time in Annapolis last session to learn the ropes and make contacts, which is a good sign. He also has friends in high places, a plus for winning projects for Washington County if he's elected.

However, Perini's Magnolia Management nursing home foundation asked the General Assembly for a grant a couple of years ago, and his family often bids on state contracts, so Perini will have to answer questions of potential conflicts of interest to voters' satisfaction.

Given that McKee is much beloved by his constituents, Perini has an uphill battle. But he does not seem shy about working hard, so this race could at least generate some intrigue.

Glendening did all that he could to help the candidacy of Del. Sue Hecht in her challenge of Sen. Alex Mooney, but the court redrew the lines more favorably to the incumbent - although not as tailor-made to his politics as was the old district.

In all, it's probably a wash. Mooney gains some voters more friendly to his political leanings, but he loses a powerful and legitimate campaign issue: That the Democrats "Annapolis elite" colluded to stack the deck against him.

The Democrats, for their part, can only blame themselves for the courts' shenanigans. Already with a stranglehold on the state's power structure, Glendening, Senate President Mike Miller et. al. grabbed for even more. They'd been warned a decade ago by the courts that they came "perilously close" to crossing the line. Democrats blew off the courts' warning and crossed the line even further this time - and got bit. Call it the price of arrogance.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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