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Maryland lawmakers listen to redistricting arguments

- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 24, 2011

FREDERICK, Md. — Maryland's redistricting committee began a 12-stop listening tour during the weekend in Western Maryland - an expected battleground in the state's redrawing of congressional and state legislative boundaries.

The committee of Martin O'Malley administration appointees held meetings Saturday in Hancock and Frederick, where residents and state legislators gave input on how Democrat-controlled Maryland should redraw its eight congressional and 47 state legislative districts.

"We're going to take into consideration what the people say," said committee member and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George's Democrat. "Hopefully, the final map will reflect their views."

Though districts must be adjusted after every census under narrowly defined rules, such efforts have always been politically influenced, with a state's majority party trying to bolster support in some districts and gain strength in those held by the minority party.

With most of Western Maryland being heavily Republican, Democrats are expected to set their sights on the region's 6th Congressional District, home to Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican.

Mr. Bartlett is seeking an 11th term in November 2012, but at 85 could retire within the decade.

His district spans seven of eight counties along Maryland's northern border and a northern section of heavily Democratic Montgomery County.

Democrats are expected to attempt to redraw the district to include more of Montgomery and remove conservative sections of Baltimore and Harford counties.

While residents in Hancock - a small Washington County town between the Pennsylvania and West Virginia borders - focused more on the state legislative map, the congressional map was a hot topic in Frederick, which has had some of the state's sharpest population growth in the past decade.

Andrew J. Duck, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the 6th District congressional seat in 2006, 2008 and 2010, said the existing layout - which spans about 200 miles and almost to the Eastern Shore - is too wide for a congressman to keep contact with all of his constituents. He also argued that Montgomery residents would be better suited in the district than residents from Baltimore or Harford counties.

"Frederick and Washington County have really become part of the Washington suburbs," he said. "As such, I think the community of interest makes it more relevant for them to be lumped with Montgomery County."

State Sen. David R. Brinkley, Frederick Republican, acknowledged the district stretches far eastward but said most of its residents live in rural areas.

"For the most part, I think that there's an awful lot of continuity there and it should remain intact," he said.

Mr. Brinkley also said he would be open to some expansion into Montgomery County but did not want existing District 6 residents to be removed.

The five-member committee will make its recommendations to Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, who will then propose his own maps for approval by the General Assembly.

Congressional districts must be essentially identical, while state-level districts can stray from their ideal population by as much as 5 percent.

The General Assembly will decide on a new congressional map during its October special session, then consider the state legislative map in January during its regular session.

Five residents spoke at the hearing in Hancock, which was attended by about 40 people. Eleven residents spoke in Frederick, where about 60 people attended. The redistricting committee will host its next hearing Monday night in Largo.

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