- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2004

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is reviewing a delegate’s suggestion to appoint a bipartisan task force to reform the state’s legislative-redistricting process.

Delegate John R. Leopold’s letter “is under review,” said Ehrlich spokesman Henry P. Fawell. “It would be premature to comment on the merits of the request until it has been sufficiently reviewed by the appropriate individuals.”

In a letter last week, Mr. Leopold, Anne Arundel Republican, asked Mr. Ehrlich to appoint a bipartisan task force to find a more equitable solution to drawing voting-district lines. Currently, the Democratic Party — which controls the state legislature — monopolizes the process.

Mr. Leopold’s legislative proposals for changing the system have failed in the General Assembly.

“The majority leadership did not allow a vote for the last two years,” he said. “Hopefully, the governor will act in support of one of his priorities” that he laid out during his gubernatorial campaign.

But Mr. Fawell said the Republican governor’s 2002 campaign promise was only to “reform redistricting process for fair representation.”

“At no point did his promise reference the creation of a task force,” he said. “The governor still intends to fulfill his commitment at the appropriate time and through the appropriate means.”

Redistricting reform does have some bipartisan support.

Delegate Luiz R.S. Simmons, Montgomery County Democrat, said he supports redistricting reform.

“Since we form task forces of considerably less consequence than that,” Mr. Simmons said, “I don’t see a problem with forming a task force for that.”

Delegates Herbert H. McMillan and Donald H. Dwyer Jr., both Anne Arundel Republicans, and Theodore J. Sophocleus, Anne Arundel Democrat, also have backed Mr. Leopold’s bills.

The drawing of district lines has been a point of contention since Mr. Ehrlich’s predecessor — Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat — developed a redistricting plan that eventually was ruled unconstitutional by a state court in 2002.

• Sticking together

Two Republican delegates who helped draft Virginia’s largest tax increase in history have been rallying support from other pro-tax Republicans — and collected a record amount of dollars during a re-election fund-raiser.

Delegates L. Preston Bryant of Lynchburg and S. Chris Jones of Suffolk held a fund-raiser on Wednesday for re-election campaigns in November 2005.

Mr. Bryant and Mr. Jones led a group of maverick Republicans who voted for a tax increase this year in order to end a budget impasse.

The fund-raiser garnered between $70,000 and $80,000, which will be split between the two delegates, Mr. Bryant said.

While no Democrats were “officially” at the fund-raiser, which was held at the Richmond pub Richbrau, at least one was seen wandering among the 75-person crowd and showing quiet support for Mr. Bryant and Mr. Jones. Others there included bankers and officials in the health care industry.

All of the Republican lawmakers who attended the fund-raiser voted in favor of the tax increase: Delegates James H. Dillard of Fairfax County, Thomas D. Rust of Herndon, Dave Nutter of Christianburg, and Danny Marshall of Danville, and Sens. John H. Chichester of Stafford, Thomas K. Norment of James City, Kenneth W. Stolle of Virginia Beach and Walter A. Stosch of Glen Allen.

Mr. Bryant said antitax House leaders, including Speaker William J. Howell of Stafford and Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith of Salem, were not at the fund-raiser.

“It was the single largest fund-raiser I’ve had in 10 years in the House,” Mr. Bryant said, adding that his record of service helped generate the record fund-raising results.

• Millionaires’ club

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Maryland Democrat, this year joined the ranks of Maryland members serving in the House who disclosed assets worth at least $1 million.

Republican Roscoe G. Bartlett and Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin are the only other Maryland congressmen who listed assets of more than $1 million on this year’s financial-disclosure statements.

Once a year, members of the House and Senate are required to complete the forms, which group assets in categories, such as $15,001 to $50,000. The disclosure forms do not show net worth, but list sources of income outside lawmakers’ salaries.

Most members reported modest holdings, and most reported assets that hadn’t changed substantially over the year. Mr. Ruppersberger’s assets are worth between $1 million and $2.1 million, slightly more than last year. Spokeswoman Heather Molino said the increase came from an Ocean City rental property going up in value. The property was valued last year at $100,000 to $250,000 and now is worth between $250,000 and $500,000.

As part of his assets, the congressman from Baltimore County listed a trust worth between $250,000 and $500,000 and an IRA valued between $500,000 and $1 million. The 2nd District lawmaker listed a loss of an undisclosed amount after a business he invested in 10 years ago went bankrupt, Miss Molino said.

Mr. Bartlett, of the 6th District, still is the wealthiest member of the Maryland delegation, with assets worth between $1.6 million and $6.2 million. Most of that lies in property holdings in Western Maryland, although two properties are in Michigan and West Virginia.

Mr. Cardin, of the 3rd District, valued his assets between $1.4 million and $3.6 million, including a trust valued at $250,000 to $500,000 that was set up by his father, Meyer Cardin, and will be passed on to the congressman’s children.

• County meeting

Sherry Freebery, chief administrative officer for New Castle County, Del., pleaded not guilty in federal court last week to racketeering, mail fraud and wire fraud charges.

Miss Freebery’s boss, County Executive Tom Gordon, tried to enter a plea to similar charges, but federal Magistrate Judge Mary Pat Thynge denied his request, saying he needed to have an attorney present.

Judge Thynge scheduled an arraignment for Thursday for Mr. Gordon and executive assistant Janet Smith.

The three were named in an 11-count indictment returned last month by a federal grand jury after a lengthy probe into charges of fraud and abuse in county government.

Mr. Gordon and Miss Freebery are charged with several counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and racketeering. Miss Smith is charged with two counts of mail fraud and one count of destroying documents.

The indictment claims a pattern of misuse of county employees, county property and county funds by Mr. Gordon and Miss Freebery dating to 1994, a period during which each served as the county’s police chief before they accepted their current posts.

Prosecutors say the two devised and executed five fraudulent schemes.

In addition to purportedly using county employees on political campaigns, the two are charged with engaging in a conflict of interest and coverup regarding Miss Freebery’s receipt of more than $2 million from DuPont heiress Lisa Dean Moseley related to the development of the Fieldstone Golf Club.

The indictment follows a lengthy probe of county government that already has netted a guilty plea to a state conspiracy charge from the county’s former police chief. In December, John L. Cunningham acknowledged that he ordered several of his police officers to work on the political campaigns of two persons seeking seats on the County Council in 2002. The candidates, William Tansey and Patti Powell, were elected.

Robert Redding Jr. and Christina Bellantoni contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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