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Letters to the editor - 8/25/02

August 25, 2002

Maryland redistricting process must be changed



This year, redistricting decisions in Maryland came down to heated battles before the Maryland Court of Appeals. While one can have no illusions about redistricting being a simple process, the current system in Maryland does nothing to ameliorate the difficult task at hand. For this reason, the process needs reform.

As it currently stands, the governor has sole constitutional authority to come up with a plan for state legislative districts, which he then submits to the state legislature. One might think the legislature acts as a check and balance with regards to redistricting, but in fact this process is merely an illusion. The legislature must adopt a plan within 45 days after the opening of session or the governor's plan becomes law by default. This means that even if a majority within the legislature disapproves of the governor's plan, the governor's plan becomes law nonetheless, due to the legislature's inability to agree on an alternative.

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Consequently, an unfair plan can come into effect, resulting in much litigation as various interests from throughout the state challenge the plan in the courts. The problem associated with these legal challenges lies in the fact that it takes time for all of the arguments to be heard and a decision rendered by the court. This leaves candidates for the state legislature in limbo, not knowing where their districts will be.

One can see an example of how this affected a local candidate in LeRoy Myers. Myers originally was running for an open seat to represent northern Washington County. With the Court of Appeals decision, he now faces the current Speaker of the House of Delegates, Casper Taylor Jr., to represent western Washington County and eastern Allegany County. The process was unfair to Myers and many other candidates throughout the state.

There is a better way to do redistricting. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 12 states have commissions or boards set up as the redistricting authority. In fact, of the 50 states, only Maryland has its governor as the authority for drawing up new state legislative districts.

Having an independent commission do redistricting would help to take much of the politics out of the process. Instead of having individuals who seek to come up with a plan that will serve only their interests or the interests of their party, independent commissions seek to come up with fair plans, beneficial to the citizens of the state.

Citizens would benefit by not having the communities in which they live split up simply for the purpose of giving an incumbent legislator a better chance of getting re-elected or a selected challenger a better chance of being elected. When the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned Gov. Parris Glendening's redistricting plan, a major reason cited was the fragmentation of communities and the non-compactness of districts under his plan.

Right now, the political party with the most control in the government uses the redistricting process to further cement its power. This should not be the aim of the redistricting process. An independent commission would not be working with the intention of creating safe seats for particular candidates, but would work to have a plan that makes elections more competitive, with the effect of drawing more people to the polls and increasing voter turnout.

The General Assembly must pass legislation that changes the future redistricting process. Marylanders must not have a repeat of 2002, and all of the legal challenges, the next time reapportionment occurs. An independent commission would give the citizens of Maryland an objective and fair plan that withstands the scrutiny of the courts and benefits the democratic principles upon which America was founded.

Del. Robert A. McKee is the District 2A delegate to the Maryland General Assembly.




Move wouldn't hurt hospital



To the editor:


So far all I have read in keeping the Washington County Hospital in town is about traffic.

The present hospital is on side streets, without a heavy traffic flow.

Even now there are times of the day when traffic on Washington and Franklin streets is heavy enough to slow down traffic. This is a major route, U.S. 40, through town.

Think of the additional traffic of ambulances, changing shifts and visitors slowing down to turn into the parking building.

I think it would be a nightmare driving those streets.

The other locations would have enough land if in 25 years growth required expansion.

There seemed to be no problems as a result of the Martinsburg and Winchester hospitals moving to the edge of those towns, where traffic was less congested.

Drewry E. Harpold

Hagerstown




Save the pledge



To the editor:


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