Bartlett unafraid of bid to redistrict

Democrats merely want 2 districts in Montgomery, he says

September 14, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

While politicians all over Maryland nervously wait to see Gov. Parris N. Glendening's redistricting plan in January and how it will change their futures, one officeholder says he is unaffected -- U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett Jr.

Speculation abounds about what the state's dominant Democrats may do to squeeze out moderate Republicans such as U.S. Reps. Constance A. Morella and Robert L. Ehrlich, who might run for governor. But the 75-year-old Bartlett, the state's most conservative Republican, said he's not a target and he's not worried.

"They [Democrats] don't care about me," Bartlett said, adding that Democrats merely want two congressional districts based in Montgomery County to serve their interests.

"I may or may not be caught up in that," he said. "It really won't matter. I am going to run in whatever district the majority of my present voters are, whatever they call it. Whatever district begins in Garrett County will be the district I'm running in.

"They can't hook Garrett County up with northern Montgomery," Bartlett added with a laugh. "I represent the 6th District, and I have for 10 years. They may change the name, but it will still be their district to the people who are there."

Bartlett made the comments in Ellicott City after handing out military medals to two veterans -- a hallmark of the Frederick scientist/farmer's decade in office and one of the things that has helped spread his reputation for serving constituents.

"If you have a good constituent service operation, that accounts for more and more of your vote support" over time, said Herb Smith, a political science professor at Western Maryland College.

Bartlett has built a reputation as a political maverick who publicly opposes the death penalty, does minimal fund raising, disdains pork barrel politics, ignores critics and newspapers that annoy him, and keeps on winning.

Last year, Bartlett won re-election with 61 percent of the vote. His June 30 campaign finance statement shows him with $170,807 cash on hand for the next campaign.

According to the 2000 census, Bartlett's Western Maryland district, which stretches from Garrett County east through parts of Howard County, has grown larger than the ideal mathematical district of 662,061 residents. That means the 6th District must shrink by 61,128 people.

Morella, the only incumbent member of Congress to speak at one of the dozen public redistricting hearings sponsored by Glendening, requested last week that Montgomery not be split up or paired with Western Maryland counties.

"To combine Montgomery County with communities like Frederick or Hagerstown, as some have suggested, seems less of an effort at fair representation and more of an attempt to dilute our interests and drown our voices," she said. "Redistricting must not become a purely partisan exercise."

Democrats are trying to find a way for two Montgomery County legislators -- Del. Mark K. Shriver and Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. -- to run for Congress without opposing each other in a fractious Democratic primary.

Bartlett also noted that Del. Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat who is speaker of the House of Delegates, is committed to keeping Western Maryland together in one congressional district -- which Taylor confirmed.

"What I have said consistently and what I will fight for is to keep Western Maryland whole and protect the integrity of its community," Taylor said.

If the speaker achieves that, said Smith, the WMC professor, Bartlett's "re-election becomes more assured."

If five western counties -- Garrett, Washington, Allegany, Frederick and Carroll -- stay together, Bartlett said, the remaining few thousand voters must come from Baltimore, Howard or Montgomery counties.

If the Democrats try to break off parts of several of the 6th District counties, they risk a court challenge, he said. A less legally risky plan, Bartlett said, might be to join Howard and half of Montgomery County into a new congressional district.

The elder statesman of Maryland's congressional delegation had some political advice for Ehrlich, his younger colleague who is trying to decide whether to run for governor instead of seeking re-election to Congress.

Ehrlich pushed back a final decision on his future after strategy meetings he scheduled this week were canceled because of the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon.

"I told Bobby he ought to run for governor, because he couldn't lose," Bartlett said.

"He looked surprised, and I said, `Either you'll be the governor, or you'll be a $1 million-a-year lobbyist.' He just smiled, because that's the truth. Bobby needs to run."

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