WASHINGTON -- Holy Toyota! Have the Japanese launched a secret attack against Maryland Rep. Helen D. Bentley?
So say two small Maryland weekly newspapers. In recent articles, they cite sources claiming the Japanese are bribing Democrats to redistrict Japan-bashing Bentley out of office.
Although the papers offer not a yen's worth of evidence, Bentley, R-2nd, says she's inclined to believe them.
How else, asks Bentley, can one explain a plan which obliterates her district? "There has to be a real reason for it," she said yesterday.
Tuesday's issue of the Observer, a Calvert County weekly, ran a story with this headline: "Sources hint Japanese money may have helped buy plan redistricting panel offered." It quotes an unidentified Democratic congressional staffer as saying the Japanese will "donate huge sums to help the Democratic Party if they would find a way to get rid of" Bentley.
Observer editor T.J. DuCellier said she wrote the story after a similar version ran in St. Mary's Today in Lexington Park.
"It's weird," she conceded. But, after checking with legislative aides in Annapolis, DuCellier said, she discovered the conspiracy theory "seems to be fairly common knowledge."
If the story is right about one thing, it's that the plan would make life miserable for Bentley by dividing her district among other redrawn districts. To survive, next year she'd have to run against fellow Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest in the Eastern Shore-based 1st District, or challenge a Baltimore-area Democrat his political turf.
The plan makes partisan sense to the Democratic legislative leaders in Annapolis who drew it up. They don't need any inducement to attempt to get rid of a Republican such as Bentley, especially when the alternative plan Bentley backs would devastate Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th.
But Bentley has been fighting the Japanese for so many years over trade practices, alleged influence-peddling and other issues, that she says she believes they'd stop at nothing. More than once she has said she wouldn't visit Japan for fear of being killed.
Bentley says she is to trying to check the conspiracy story with a reliable "source" whom she wouldn't name.
Meanwhile, she is mounting an attack against the proposed plan and criticizing another that state legislators from Baltimore County made public yesterday.
8, That plan, touted as a bipartisan effort
by Baltimore County state senators, would put a version of Bentley's current 2nd District back on the map but force her to run against Democratic incumbent Rep. Ben Cardin.
nTC "It's a Bromwell district," charged Bentley, who intimated that state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Democrat who had a large say in the proposed map, merely wants to create a base for his future political endeavors.
"I'm not running for Congress," Bromwell countered yesterday. "If Helen thinks it's a Bromwell district, tell her to come down here and put me in the 1st District." He said he is not opposed to changes in the plan as long as most of Baltimore County remains intact.