Takes the oath of office tomorrow, Wayne Gilchrest...


January 02, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

WHEN HE takes the oath of office tomorrow, Wayne Gilchrest of Kennedyville, Kent County, will re-establish a 190-year-old tradition that was interrupted exactly 10 years ago.

I mean, there will be an Eastern Shoreman in the U.S. House of Representatives again.

There was at least one in every Congress from 1791 to 1981. Then in 1980 the incumbent, Rep. Robert Bauman of Easton, Talbot County, was defeated by Roy Dyson of Great Mills, St. Mary's County.

St. Mary's County is in Southern Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay's western shore. (That's right, lower case "w" and "s" but upper case "E" and "S." That's the rule in this space and elsewhere. That's so one can refer to "the Shore" without fear of confusion.)

Dyson's victory was such a break with the past that I and others like me who believe in the iron law of political patterns were stunned. I immediately predicted that Dyson would lose to an Eastern Shoreman in the next election in 1982.

I reasoned that the Shore was the most populous part of the First District, that Dyson had lost the Shore to his opponent, and that Shore pride and strength would be re-asserted victoriously in 1982.

I was wrong. Dyson won in 1982, in 1984, in 1986 and in 1988, before losing in 1990.

Predicting the outcome of congressional elections ought to be easy, but journalists and politicians often get it wrong. That's especially true right after a new Census. (Another reason I gave for Dyson's losing was re-districting.)

A number of journalists and Republican politicians are, even as you read this, predicting that the re-districting that will follow the 1990 Census will result in Republican gains in the House of Representatives. The reasoning is that states where Republicans have been growing stronger -- California, Texas, Florida -- will gain the most new House seats.

The arguments sound very logical. But I am looking at an old Sun clipping dated May, 3, 1981. Fred Barnes, then the paper's national political correspondent, now a senior editor at the New Republic, foresaw Republicans picking up seats in the mid-term election. He went on, "The Republicans, who last controlled the House 26 years ago, have an opportunity that extends beyond the 1982 election. Assisted by reapportionment, their gains may be sufficiently sweeping to bring on an era of GOP preponderance nationally."

So what happened?

The Republicans lost 26 seats in 1982, gained 16 in 1984, lost five in 1986, lost two more in 1988 and seven more in 1990. Net result of reapportionment for the Republicans: Minus 24 seats in the House.

This is the time of year when journalists often think of making predictions for the year ahead. We really should resist the pressure. We are not good at it.

My New Year's Resolution is never to predict again.

I also predict I won't keep it.

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