Delegate Kathleen Dumais

Democrat, Maryland House of Delegates District 15

Proposed congressional map targets rural Maryland, lawmakers say

A proposed redistricting map that transfers part of the 6th Congressional District from Frederick County farther into more liberal Montgomery County is a continuation of what some lawmakers are calling a war on rural Maryland.

The move, which observers say would pave the way for a Democrat to take control of a long-held western Maryland Republican seat, follows a legislative session early this year in which lawmakers complained a proposed gas tax, potential ban on new septic systems and toll hikes unfairly target the state’s outer reaches.

Sen. David R. Brinkley, who leads the Frederick County delegation, said in attempting to give Maryland Democrats a 7-1 advantage in congressional seats, the map, proposed by the governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee, lumps dissimilar communities under one lawmaker.

The map, which will be reviewed and potentially altered by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and submitted to the General Assembly later this month, also extends the 1st District, which covers the Eastern Shore, into Carroll County. That links jurisdictions such as Taneytown with municipalities as distant as 180 miles, like Pocomoke City.

“This is throwing the rural areas under the bus for political extraction on Capitol Hill,” said Brinkley (R-Dist. 4) of New Market. “You’re going to be hearing a lot more on the war on rural Maryland, and this exemplifies it.”

If the submitted version of the map passes the General Assembly during a special session expected to begin Oct. 17, Brinkley, who said he has considered a congressional run to replace 85-year-old Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-6th) of Buckeystown, will be drawn out of the 6th District.

His home would be added to the 8th District, which is represented by Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D) of Kensington, and would connect northern Frederick County to districts inside the Beltway.

“There’s no community of interest between the inner Beltway communities and Thurmont and Emmitsburg. None whatsoever,” Brinkley said. “This is political gerrymandering at its worst.”

Sen. Joseph M. Getty (R-Dist. 5) of Manchester, who helped challenge maps created under Gov. Parris N. Glendening a decade ago, said altering the 6th District, as many observers expect, to give state Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (D-Dist. 15) of Germantown a congressional seat defies historical precedent.

Since 1791, counties in the western portion of the state typically have been represented by a congressman from that region, Getty said.

“On one hand, it’s about consolidating congressional power in Montgomery County, Prince George’s and Baltimore to help them elevate O’Malley’s stature,” Getty said.

“The victim is the constituents of western Maryland who are used to turning to somebody with a background in agriculture, somebody who knows the rural issues in their district and instead they’re represented by two people from Montgomery County.”

John T. Willis, a former secretary of state and architect of the Glendening redistricting plan, argues Montgomery lawmakers represented western Marylanders up until Bartlett’s election in 1992.

“I fully understand the politics part of it; I’ve been involved in it for 30 years,” Willis said. “I think there are a lot of questions, and it will be interesting to see whether both the governor and the General Assembly respond and how they respond.”

Del. Kathleen Dumais (D – Dist. 15) of Rockville, whose constituents would fall within the 6th District under the proposed plan, doesn’t think the needs of her upper Montgomery County district differ much from communities in far-flung Allegany and Garrett counties.

“District 15 really is a microcosm of Western Maryland, and so I think some of it makes sense,” she said. “We have pieces of Potomac and pieces of Rockville and Germantown and Gaithersburg, but we have all the rural part of the county.”

Del. Brian J. Feldman (D-Dist. 15) of Potomac, who serves in the same state legislative district as Garagiola, doesn’t deny the political nature of creating districts, but said the proposed map doesn’t violate federal rules for creating congressional districts.

“I think the commission did a good job in terms of coming up with the map that will withstand any court scrutinity,” he said.

There might not be much recourse for rural proponents. Getting federal courts to override congressional plans can be difficult; aside from population requirements, there are not many regulations of how districts must be designed, Getty said.

However, if the proposed map moves through the General Assembly, opponents might have a case based on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits legislatures from drawing maps that weaken minority voting strength, Getty said.

The proposed map splits clusters of minority voters in central Maryland that could have been consolidated to form a third minority-majority district in the state, Getty said.

Organizations including the Fannie-Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, a group that formed to ensure minority voters were not disenfranchised during redistricting, also expressed frustration with the plan, calling the lack of a third minority voting district “institutional racism.”

“Whether somebody can argue that with 45-plus percent of minority population in Maryland that this plan does not meet the civil rights standards, a court might be willing to buy that,” Getty said.

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