Silencing voters in split districts

November 16, 1994

The Democratic majority of the Montgomery County House delegation has a message for the 5,400 Montgomery residents who are represented by two state delegates from Howard County:

You're on your own, folks.

The Montgomery Democratic House delegation voted last week to oust GOP Dels. Robert H. Kittleman and Robert L. Flanagan of District 14B. The two delegates live in Howard County, as do 65,000 of their constituents. However, the lawmakers also represent about 5,400 people who live in a small part of Montgomery County that is included in 14B.

By acting to remove Mr. Kittleman and Mr. Flanagan, the Montgomery Democrats have declared 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 when compared to the citizen-delegate ratio of roughly 35,000-to-1 in the rest of Montgomery.

The fact remains, however, that no group of citizens, whether five or 5,000, should be denied representation at delegation conferences.

Mr. Dembrow says his motion was not inspired by partisanship. It's purely coincidental, he says, that both Mr. Kittleman and Mr. Flanagan are allies of Ellen Sauerbrey, and that Mr. Kittleman might 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'd agree that the anti-GOP theory makes little sense. But then neither does any explanation that Mr. Dembrow and his colleagues have offered.

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 and Harford and Howard counties.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. 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. The Montgomery Democrats still hint, foolishly, that they might challenge the speaker.

Mr. Taylor, then, 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.

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