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 came up 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 County included in 14B.

By acting to remove Delegates Kittleman and Flanagan, the Montgomery Democrats have declared, in essence, that they couldn't care less that those 5,400 citizens will have no voice within the delegation.

Del. Dana Lee Dembrow, the Democrat who made the 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. And yet the fact remains that no group of citizens, whether five or 5,000, should be denied representation at delegation conferences.

Mr. Dembrow says his motion is not inspired by partisanship. After all, the Montgomery delegation would have 16 Democrats to eight Republicans even with the two Howard lawmakers in the group. We would agree that the anti-GOP theory makes no 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 also expects the entire House to set a uniform policy on delegation membership. This has become a particularly important issue with the increased number of districts that cross jurisdictional lines. Howard County also shares a legislative district with Baltimore County.

The Montgomery Democrats still insist 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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