- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2011

Members of Maryland’s tea party movement are opposing a recommended congressional redistricting map that they say could further shift political power to the state’s Democratic majority.

State tea party leaders will hold a rally Oct. 18 in Annapolis to protest a map recommended last week by a governor-appointed commission. They will also implore the General Assembly not to pass any tax increases during its special redistricting session, which begins Monday.

The recommended map - proposed by a five-member panel including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat - would redraw the state’s eight congressional districts and give Democrats a stronger chance of unseating Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, one of the state’s two GOP congressional members.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, will propose his own map to the Democrat-controlled Assembly, which will then consider it and approve a final map during the session.

“What we were trying to avoid is the exact thing that’s happening,” said Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr., Cecil Republican and member of the Assembly’s Tea Party Caucus. “The idea here is to remind the senators and delegates that the citizens of Maryland … are going to be watching to make sure the lines aren’t gerrymandered and political games aren’t being played with the process.”

The recommended congressional map would drastically alter Mr. Bartlett’s Western Maryland district, removing largely conservative sections of Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick and Harford counties and replacing them with the more liberal western half of Montgomery County.

If approved, the map would allow state Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Garagiola, a Montgomery Democrat who has expressed interest in the seat, to run against the 85-year-old lawmaker.

Republicans have complained that the map too heavily favors state Democrats. And black groups say it could reduce minority presence and influence in the state’s two majority-minority districts, represented by Democratic Reps. Elijah E. Cummings and Donna F. Edwards.

State Sen. Joseph M. Getty, Carroll Republican, told the Associated Press on Monday that he will introduce a bill during the special session to keep Mr. Bartlett’s 6th District largely intact and instead add portions of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes’ 3rd District.

Mr. O’Malley said last week that he will likely submit a map “substantially similar” to the one recommended by his panel. But lawmakers including Mr. Bartlett, Miss Edwards and Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen have expressed concerns about proposed changes to their districts.

“Even right now, the current congressional districts are extremely gerrymandered,” said Michael Bertocchi, an official with the Constitution Party of Maryland, which is expected to attend the rally. “They divide the counties way too much, and it looks like the state of Maryland is going to get even worse.”

Mr. Smigiel said the rally will address only redistricting and tax increases and is expected to include several other conservative groups and leaders such as the Maryland Society of Patriots and former Republican Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey.

State lawmakers this year have discussed possible tax and fee increases to help fund transportation and other causes, and to help close an expected $1-billion budget shortfall in next year’s budget.

Assembly leaders entertained thoughts earlier this year of considering tax increases during the special session, but now say such discussions are unlikely to come up before the regular session begins in January.

• David Hill can be reached at dhill@washingtontimes.com.

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