How to Silence 5,400 Citizens

November 16, 1994

Before the next General Assembly session begins this January, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. must leave no doubt in his colleagues' minds that delegates from legislative districts that overlap jurisdictional boundaries deserve full membership and voting rights in the meetings of each subdivision's House delegation.

The matter arose after the Democratic majority of the Montgomery County House delegation voted last week to oust Republican Dels. Robert H. Kittleman and Robert L. Flanagan of District 14B. The two delegates are based in Howard County, where 65,000 of their constituents live. However, they also represent about 5,400 people who live in a small part of Montgomery included in District 14B.

This imbroglio has statewide implications because of the increased number of districts that cross jurisdictional lines. Baltimore County, for example, will share delegates and state senators with Baltimore City, Harford and Howard counties.

By acting to remove Mr. Kittleman and Mr. Flanagan, the Montgomery Democrats have declared they couldn't care less that those 5,400 citizens who will now have no voice within their county's delegation. Del. Dana Lee Dembrow, the Democrat who made the undemocratic motion to bar the Howard Republicans, argues that two delegates for 5,400 people is unfair compared with the citizen-delegate ratio of roughly 35,000-to-1 in the rest of Montgomery. Yet the fact remains that no group of citizens, whether five or 5,000, should be denied representation at delegation conferences.

Mr. Dembrow insists his motion was not inspired by partisanship. It's purely coincidental, he says, that Mr. Kittleman and Mr. Flanagan supported Ellen Sauerbrey, and that Mr. Kittleman is in line to succeed Mrs. Sauerbrey as the House GOP leader. After all, the Montgomery delegation would have 16 Democrats to eight Republicans even with the two Howard lawmakers in the group. We agree the anti-GOP theory makes little sense. But then neither does any explanation that Mr. Dembrow and his colleagues have offered.

Mr. Taylor has made it known that he not only opposes the ploy pulled by the Montgomery Democrats but expects the entire House to set a uniform policy on delegation membership. That is the only proper course of action. Montgomery Democrats still hint they might challenge the speaker. If they're foolish enough to try it, they'll likely find that, in Mr. Kittleman's words, they're "wrestling with the 800-pound gorilla."

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