GOP has ammo in 6th District race

November 27, 2011|By TIM ROWLAND |

Western Maryland Republicans accusing big-city lawmakers of playing politics by redrawing our congressional district to favor Democrats are correct, but the argument itself is irrelevant.

Of course, the lines are politically motivated; redrawing boundary lines is part of the political process. Republicans might as well accuse Democrats of playing politics by holding elections.

Same goes for the Republican complaint about Democratic gerrymandering. Show us a district in America that isn’t gerrymandered. Lawmakers massage numbers in all congressional districts, either to protect or get rid of the incumbent.

Usually, it’s to protect, but not so in Maryland’s 6th congressional district, where Democrats believe they have a chance of retiring Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, an aging lawmaker who for two decades has kept the seat out of the hands of Democrats and young, aggressive Republicans alike.

In criticizing the newly drawn 6th, which includes a bunch of suburbanites to the southeast, local Republicans complain that it is an atrocity because Washington County has nothing in common with Montgomery County.

Historically, however, Montgomery and Washington counties shared a district and for years lived happily enough, represented by conservative Democrat Beverly Byron.

Ironically, it was another Democratic power grab in 1990 that lumped all the state’s western Republicans into one district where they couldn’t infect other races.

Democrats assumed Byron would still carry the 6th, and she might have had she not been defeated in the primary by a more liberal state delegate, Tom Hattery.

This led to the ascendance of Bartlett, who labeled Hattery “Taxing Tom,” and that was pretty much that.

Bartlett is not a darling of the Republican establishment, although it was happy enough with him for a while for bringing the 6th into the fold. As a strong champion of term limits, everyone assumed Bartlett would step down after a few years.

As it turned out, however, Bartlett openly wanted term limits for other people; where he himself was concerned, he was more judicious.

So, as the years and decades have dragged on, young Republicans itching for a shot at Congress have grown increasingly antsy. Subtle hints to Bartlett that it’s time to step aside have fallen on deaf ears.

So, now that the Democrats have done the heavy lifting for them, young Republicans are faced with a tough nut: They want the odds of Republican victory to be long enough to scare Bartlett out of the race, but not so long that one of they themselves can’t win.

As such, Republicans haven’t been dealt all that bad a hand.

These crocodile tears being shed over the new district have less to do with the horrors of sharing a representative with Montgomery County than they do in instituting the first step of what appears to be the new GOP strategy.

Instead of making this a race of Democrat versus Republican, they seem to be turning it into a race of city versus country.

The key to the district might not be Montgomery County at all; the key might be convincing enough country Democrats that Maryland Democrats are enemies, not so much of conservative values, but of rural values.

Already, Republicans are going after Gov. Martin O’Malley on this issue, a template that should be portable enough to lay over top of the eventual Democratic nominee in the 6th.

Local Republicans will have plenty of ammo: septic-system crackdowns; state control of water runoff affecting state watercourses; any gas-tax hike that forces rural drivers to pay for more city transit projects.

Republicans will be eager to paint programs designed to protect the Chesapeake Bay as a veiled attack on rural property rights. This Bay vs. Hay battle could easily gain traction in an area where farmers are told what they must do with every ounce of manure, at the same time that suburban residents are dumping countless tons of lawn fertilizer on streambanks, unabated.

Early in his term, O’Malley named Hagerstown the State Capital for a Day and brought his entourage to the downtown to hear our concerns. But since then, in many people’s view, he hasn’t even dropped us a card. Without local lawmakers pounding him at every turn, that’s understandable. But if Democrats want to realize their grand dream of returning the 6th to the fold, they’re going to have to pay us some attention at some point.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. His email address is

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