FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Democrats urged a legislative redistricting panel Saturday to redraw a congressional seat in western Maryland long held by a Republican so it will include more of Democratic-leaning Montgomery County, and Republicans said they were surprised by the overtly partisan tone of Democratic comments.
The five-member Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee held its first two public hearings, including a lightly attended one in Hancock and another in Frederick.
Myrna Whitworth, who chairs the Frederick County Democratic Central Committee, said Democrats have had trouble fielding candidates to run in the 6th congressional district in recent years. She said she hoped the panel would consider recommending the removal of Carroll County and upper Baltimore and Harford counties from the district, and replacing them with more of Montgomery.
She opened her remarks by underscoring that she was speaking from a partisan point of view.
“Give us a fighting chance to win, to work and to change the composition of the sixth congressional district,” Whitworth told the panel during the Frederick hearing at Hood College.
In interviews after the hearing, Republicans said they were surprised to hear Democratic comments that were so starkly political.
“I was surprised by the highly partisan tone of the Democrats who spoke,” state Sen. Joseph Getty, R-Carroll, said.
“Republicans want fair and balanced districts. We want the laws to be followed and the district to be drawn in a fair and balanced manner, and the Democrat comments here today were: `Please, draw congressional district six so it has a political advantage to Democrats.”‘
The district has been held since 1993 by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, who is serving his 10th term. Bartlett won in November with 61 percent of the vote. Republicans hold two of Maryland’s eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Overall, Maryland is a strongly Democratic state, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2-1. Getty said he believes it will be hard for Democrats to win in the 6th District, even with more of Montgomery added in.
“I think when the lines get drawn it’s a strongly conservative district, no matter how far they go into Montgomery County, and I don’t see any reason for congressman Bartlett to be concerned,” Getty said.
Elizabeth Paul, chair of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee, urged the panel at the Hancock hearing to reconfigure the district to make it more unified.
“We need a 6th congressional district that’s not a patchwork of odds and ends of eight different counties, but rather one that makes sense and shares more than the Mason-Dixon line,” Paul said. “This district currently spans a distance of nearly 200 miles across the northern part of the state.”
Howard Gorrell, a Smithsburg resident, urged the five-member panel to use geographical boundaries to redraw districts.
“No gerrymandering should be allowed,” Gorrell, who has a hearing-impairment, told the panel with the help of a sign-language interpreter.
Republican state senators also urged the panel to consider reconfiguring state legislative districts so that they are mostly within county lines. Now, many districts span county lines.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, who is one of the five members of the panel, said he could see the maps reflecting peoples’ comments at the hearings, but he said it’s too soon to say for sure whether the panel will recommend including more of Montgomery County in the 6th congressional district.
“It’s a possibility,” Miller said. “We haven’t heard from the incumbent congress people yet,” Miller said. “Plus, we have 10 more public hearings, and we need to find out what’s going to happen on the Eastern Shore. We need to find out what’s going to happen out in southern Maryland.”
The remaining hearings will run through next month.
The state’s congressional districts and its legislative districts in the General Assembly are being redrawn based on the results of the 2010 census. Lawmakers will take up redistricting the state’s eight congressional seats in the October special session. State legislative redistricting will be taken up when lawmakers gather for their regular 90-day session in January.
The panel is scheduled to submit a draft plan for redistricting Maryland’s eight congressional districts in September.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)