County Delegates Silence 35,000

November 26, 1994

Sometime during the next General Assembly session, Del. Joseph "Sonny" Minnick of Dundalk, the head of Baltimore County's House of Delegates membership, will go with his hand out to Baltimore Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

And Mr. Rawlings would be justified to reply, "I'd like to help, Sonny. But remember that vote the county House members took last November? The one that said cross-jurisdiction delegates based in the city would have limited voting rights at county delegation meetings? I'd look foolish helping you after your people pulled that stunt on my folks."

For now, it's the county House delegation that looks foolish. Arrogant and undemocratic are other words that apply to the delegates for choosing to give only a partial say at their delegation meetings to the 35,000 county residents who are represented by House members from Legislative Districts 42 and 46. The Baltimore County delegates were put in an even worse light when the county's Senate delegation decided to give full votes to four senators from cross-jurisdiction districts.

Districts 42 and 46 lie mostly in Baltimore City but include portions of Baltimore County. Both are creations of the 1992 redistricting that sought to engender regional thinking. However, with its stiff-arming of the city-based delegates, the county delegation has indicated that selfish parochialism, not regional cooperation, will be its guiding theme.

Montgomery County's Democrat-controlled House delegation recently tried something similar when it ruled that two GOP House members from Howard County, who also represent 5,400 Montgomery residents, could not attend Montgomery delegation meetings. That had all the signs of a partisan feud. The Baltimore County delegates can't even use partisanship as an excuse; nearly everyone involved in the matter is a Democrat. A different kind of politics, the ugly politics of race, appears to be at work here. Or it is mere coincidence that the city sections of these districts are home to many African-Americans?

The explanation offered by Dels. John S. Arnick and Thomas E. Dewberry -- that the county delegates must be united against the city for those occasions when state aid is up for grabs -- doesn't wash. City-based delegates could have full votes and still not threaten the county members' control.

After the Montgomery County incident, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said all delegations must give full voting rights to members from cross-jurisdiction districts. He must reiterate this message more forcefully before the General Assembly reopens in January. Otherwise, more delegations might try to pull a fast one in the manner of their Montgomery and Baltimore County colleagues, and more citizens will be unjustly silenced.

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