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Could fewer lawmakers benefit county?

April 03, 2011|By TIM ROWLAND | timr@herald-mai.com
  • Rowland
Rowland

Washington County grew by more than 10 percent over the past decade. Which, in a Maryland sort of way, explains why we might lose 25 percent of our delegation to the General Assembly in the upcoming redistricting effort.

This, of course, presents the question of whether this is a bad thing, or whether fewer representatives might actually be to the county’s advantage.

Redrawing the state-lawmaker boundary lines every 10 years always provides some intrigue, some subterfuge and usually a monstrous threat or two before everything settles back pretty much to the way it was before. In other words, it’s almost always too early to hit the panic button. Almost.

Redistricting is, in theory, based on population. Legislative districts should have roughly the same number of people so all votes are relatively equal.

But politics is always as much, if not more, of a factor. Redistricting can protect a favored lawmaker or punish an unwelcome presence in the capital.

Washington County redistricting will be subjected to both forces.

On the population side, we will be invaded from the west by Allegany and Garrett counties which, to make a full senatorial district (District 1), will have to reach even further into Washington County to gather the required number of people.

The western district currently extends to the Conococheague Creek, but when the lines are redrawn it will probably reach to Interstate 81. That would leave the rest of the county to fulfill the requirement for District 2 all by itself; no longer would we have representation from (predominately) Frederick’s District 3. Effectively, the delegation would lose seats because of this.

But don’t make that bet just yet. There’s a chance we could end up with more representatives; but they would live in Frederick County, not here.

The plan outlined above was predominately effective before then-Del. Christopher B. Shank’s victory over then-Sen. Donald F. Munson in last year’s Republican primary.

Now, a second option might be in play. This would divide what is now Washington County’s District 2 in half, horizontally. These two half-districts would then reach well into Frederick County to make up the difference.

If this happens, Frederick County would have a majority of both districts, meaning that Washington County could quite conceivably be left with no resident senators.

Our county’s numbers are further diluted by a new state law that subtracts out the hefty state prison population for redistricting purposes. Shank is upset about this, and understandably so. Since prisoners can’t vote, people who live in the same district as the prisons have enjoyed a proportionally more-powerful vote.

If there are 10 people in one room and seven of these people can’t vote, the three who can have a greater political say than in rooms where all 10 can vote.

So now that the prison population is factored out, the difference has to be made up in “real voters.” And if District 2 is split in half, those people will be Frederick County residents — meaning, of course, that Washington County residents in District 2 will be beholden to two Frederick majorities.

If you have been struck by the fact that, since his entry into the State Senate, Shank has been on his best behavior, this might explain things. If he carries on like he did in the House, the General Assembly leaders could, with the stroke of a pen, make his electoral future considerably more cloudy.

Of course, redistrictectomys often turn out to be just threats. Lawmakers threatened by new, unfavorable districts tend to be a lot easier to work with. And if you play ball, you get your safe district back.

But as to the more salient question posed earlier: Are more resident Washington County lawmakers better for our people or worse?

Recently, Dels. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. and Andrew A. Serafini wrote a letter urging lawmakers to turn down a project that would bring money and some work to Washington County residents. The majority of the delegation also fought against funding for the C&O Canal at Williamsport. Nonresident representatives almost certainly would have gotten more of our own tax money back for us than our local lawmakers did.

This calls to mind the words of South Carolina power broker Darla Moore who was quoted thusly in a Kathleen Parker column this week:

“We need simply to hold our leaders accountable and tell them we understand that they may not help us. They may not be able to help us — but we demand that they not hurt us.”

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. His email address is timr@herald-mail.com.

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