Orphaned in Annapolis

September 30, 1990

Caroline County has not elected a delegate to the General Assembly for eight years, which leaves its citizens orphaned in Annapolis. Yet Caroline needs the state's help: The county's schools, for instance, rank last in per-pupil spending.

Most of Caroline lies within the 37th legislative district, which also includes Wicomico and Dorchester counties and part of Talbot County. Caroline and Talbot have the fewest voters in the district. Caroline's voting strength is further diluted because some of its 24,500 citizens are in the 36th District, shared by Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne's counties and the rest of Talbot County.

In the Nov. 6 general election, Caroline voters have a good chance of sending one of their own -- Robert A. Thornton Jr., a 42-year-old Denton lawyer -- to the Houseof Delegates. The weakest nominee for one of the three delegate spots appears to be Talbot's Kenneth D. Schisler, nominated by the Republicans. He is a 22-year-old college student with little experience.

Wicomico and Dorchester have greater chances to elect resident delegates, since their populations and voting traditions are stronger. If Caroline emerges from the election with the third resident delegate (no county in a shared district may elect more than one), Mr. Thornton will also have to look out for Talbot's interests at the State House.

Such regional concern is not new to the middle Eastern Shore. Caroline and Talbot counties are joining a regional authority to bury trash in a landfill.

This is the kind of cooperation needed for rural counties to protect their interests. Instead of shared districts designed to retain political power for individual counties, rural politicians ought to consider regional legislative districts without regard to a county's representation. A senator and three delegates would swear to represent all constituents within the region.

The plight of rural counties demands creative solutions. Many of these subdivisions are caught in a no-growth, higher-cost cycle. The long-term solution might lie in forming regional governments. It could prove both cost-efficient for taxpayers and politically effective in Annapolis.

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