Redistricting proposal irks Bartlett fans

Governor's plan would shift portion of conservatives

`Couldn't be more opposed'

Liberal Democrat would gain that group of constituents

Howard County

February 10, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

You don't get much party line pap from U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett Jr.

Maryland's most conservative Republican congressman thinks that civil liberties might be in peril from U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's anti-terror efforts, that teen-age drug dealers in Baltimore need special schooling instead of jail, that cigarettes should be sold in brown paper bags stamped with a skull and crossbones, and that "the easiest way to smuggle a nuclear weapon in [to the U.S.] is to put it in a bale of marijuana."

But congressional redistricting might soon deprive Howard County voters of an opportunity to endorse such unconventional political perspectives. Gov. Parris N. Glendening's latest redistricting plan -- released Friday -- would whipsaw all of Bartlett's Howard constituents across the political spectrum into the arms of one of Maryland's two most liberal Democrats.

Bartlett's district stretches east from Garrett County and includes Allegany, Washington, Frederick, Carroll, and much of Howard. The proposed new district would bypass Howard and cover northern Baltimore and Harford counties (now in Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich's district) to the Chesapeake Bay.

If Glendening's map is adopted by the General Assembly, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings would represent the entire western county, along with portions of Ellicott City. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin would keep parts of Elkridge and Ellicott City. The two Baltimore Democrats would split more liberal Columbia.

"Oh, my God," said Charlie Feaga, one of western Howard's staunchest Republicans. "The district is not compatible. People in the area feel more in tune with Frederick, Carroll and surrounding rural suburbs," he said. "I think they feel safe with Bartlett."

Robert Burgoyne, an Ellicott City investment adviser, can hardly imagine the change.

"It would be a disaster" to switch from Bartlett to either of Baltimore's Democratic congressmen, Burgoyne said, emerging from a recent meeting of Bartlett's constituents at the George Howard building in Ellicott City. About 25 adults and a Boy Scout troop talked to Bartlett at the meeting about a range of topics.

"I've talked to Ben Cardin. I couldn't be more opposed to him," Burgoyne said.

Cardin's views were on display recently during a visit to Columbia's Florence Bain Senior Center, where he lectured a similar group about how the Bush administration and congressional Republicans are endangering the surplus, Social Security and Medicare funds.

"The Republicans cooked the books," he told the group. They are unfairly inflating revenue estimates to justify Bush's tax cut plan, he said.

Cardin's district now stretches from Pikesville in Baltimore County east along the city-county border, down the east side of Baltimore County and southwest along the Anne Arundel-Howard line to Columbia.

"I represent some areas that are considered to be the most conservative in the state, as well as some considered to be the most liberal, but I've been able to do well at the ballot box. I must be doing something right," he said.

Cummings is a West Baltimore Democrat whose district now covers parts of the city and western Baltimore County. The district must grow -- moving farther west into Howard County, because Baltimore's population has declined.

Cummings represents the political polar opposite of Bartlett's rural, small-government view of the world -- he is a Democrat who supports abortion rights and gun control, a patients' bill of rights and health care coverage for everyone.

"It shows you, this is America. I can tell you I've gotten at least 100 calls from people saying, `Gee, I'm really glad you're coming,'" Cummings said. When he began representing Catonsville, Cummings said, he also discovered another benefit of his district's expansion from Baltimore's poorest, mostly black neighborhoods.

"I have become an interpreter. I'm kinda the man in the middle," the black congressman said. "I do believe that we do have to do everything in our power to close this racial divide."

For voters accustomed to Bartlett's often unorthodox views, the change could be traumatic.

Dave Maas said was shocked as he left his Ellicott City home to help shepherd the Boy Scouts to meet with the 75-year old scientist and farmer when his wife told him it might be the last time they'll be meeting with Bartlett.

"I'm very comfortable with Bartlett," Maas said after the session. "We're losing our voice here in Maryland. Republicans do have a voice, but now it's being taken away."

And what a voice.

Bartlett on taxes:

"I would not tax potatoes, but I'd put a heck of a tax on potato chips. They're not even good for you." He believes taxes should be levied on luxury items, but on nothing that "poor people" need, such as basic foods.

Bartlett on Ashcroft:

"I think he's flying pretty close to the flame" on civil liberties in the domestic war on terrorists. "At the end of the day, the price we pay [for wiretaps and detentions] is an erosion of our great rights. You just can't be too careful."

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