Political lines matter, but responsibility mattters more

July 05, 2011|By TAMELA BAKER

Every 10 years or so, the popular parlor game among Maryland politicos is pondering what new election districts will look like after district lines are redrawn based on new census information. It's that time again, and conjecture is rife.

The General Assembly plans to gather in Annapolis for a special session in just a few months to consider options for redrawing congressional districts, and is scheduled to consider state legislative districts during its regular session next year.

How much difference will it make in the political landscape? It can make a lot of difference, actually; new district maps have led to lawsuits in the past, and plenty of lawmakers have found themselves cut off from their base of support — and consequently out of office — as a result of redistricting.

So if Official Maryland is anxious over what the results of the coming exercise will be, there's good reason. Just ask former Maryland House Speaker Cas Taylor.

This year Democrats are reportedly trying to figure out how to rearrange the Sixth Congressional District to break the lock U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's had on that seat ever since he won election running on a platform touting term limits 20 years ago.

If all that speculation that either state Sen. Chris Shank or former state senator-turned-state-Republican-Chairman Alex Mooney (or maybe both) had eyes on Bartlett's seat is true, tampering with the lines could have some serious implications for them.

And while we're on that subject, can't help doing a little speculating of my own about what might happen, assuming Shank and Mooney do aspire to Congress, if Bartlett were out of the picture. Would one of them back off, or would we be treated to watching those two try to out-conservative each other in a Republican primary?

(Memo to Andrew Duck: If that ever happened, it could be your year!)

Back on the state level, current House Minority Leader Tony O'Donnell told the Annapolis Capital that "What should be done is, it should be in the best interest of the State of Maryland — all 5.8 million people. And it should not be done for partisan advantage."

A profoundly predictable statement, perhaps, were it not for the fact that O'Donnell has himself helped lead Republicans down such an astoundlingly partisan path that any General Assembly vote actually going their way is rare.

The scenario that would be most to the voters' advantage, sadly, is statistically impossible: That would be an even distribution of both parties in each district.

If there were more Republicans in central Maryland and more Democrats in the nether regions, both parties would be more accountable to the rest of us. Why? Because it would break the stranglehold Dems have on state politics and Republicans have on local politics here in the mountains and down on the shore.

We'd all benefit from some healthy competition between the parties. But Democrats have such a numerical edge statewide that even if we moved some of our Republicans down to Montgomery County and some of their Democrats out here, state policy would still be dictated by Democrats. That simply won't change.

So no matter where the new district lines fall, in the absence of that healthy competition the other thing that won't change is that it's incumbent on us to hold our elected officials accountable — not just for telling us what we want to hear, but for producing tangible results.

Tamela Baker is a former reporter and editor for The Herald-Mail.

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