Harford residents assail state redistricting process

Harford residents lashed out at members of Gov. Martin O'Malley's redistricting committee for gerrymandering the state in the past, and urged the group to have more consideration for community boundaries.

About 40 people came to Harford Community College's Amoss Theater Monday for the 11th of 12 statewide hearings on the process to redraw state congressional and legislative districts.

The meeting had been rescheduled on short notice after Hurricane Irene forced its postponement. Committee members included state Senate president Mike Miller and Speaker of the House Michael Busch, as well as Richard Stewart, James King and chairwoman Jeanne Hitchcock.

Many attendees were with Campaign for Liberty or Tea Party groups, but both Republicans and Democrats seemed concerned about the fairness of the whole process.

Scott DeLong, of the Harford County Republican Central Committee, said the process is likely to be very partisan and further the interests of certain politicians, as it "has increasingly been used to consolidate one-party control."

While claiming to aim for fairness, DeLong said, "it seems some members of this commission repeatedly expressed other goals."

He attacked the state's budget, noting that Maryland has 33 percent fewer people than New Jersey but spends 8 percent more than that state.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs agreed the redistricting process that began 10 years ago was less than positive.

The Minority Whip and Republican representing Southern Harford explained how her precinct was changed, against her wishes, last time to include Cecil County.

"If you give me back my old district [withBel Air], I will be happy, too. I love all of Harford County, and I am not really that worried about what you are going to do because I know you are going to do what you are going to do, and it really doesn't matter what most of us think," she said, as the audience cheered.

"I really do care about the people in my area," Jacobs said. "It's been a difficult time, but I think what most of us care about is representing the people in our areas. I think it's important that you respect our communities and you respect our opinions, and you don't just make this a totally political, gerrymandering process, and it has been that in the past."

George Harrison, of the county's Democratic Club, said he was presenting a plan to the committee, but also has concerns about the process.

He said he does not believe the current District 34 accurately represents the make-up of the neighborhood.

Timothy Hruz, of Joppa, said he does not have that big of a problem with splitting up communities per se.

"We all have a lot of gripes about what happened last time," he said. "To me, splitting counties isn't bad as long as you do it in a logical way."

He said northern Harford County has a lot in common with northern Baltimore County, so combining them could make sense, but combining rural Howard County with west Baltimore does not.

Hruz said he shared the frustrations of his fellow residents that his congressional district is squiggled all around the state "just to group certain votes together."

He also said Harford has just about the right population to possibly split it into two legislative districts of its own, without attaching it to Cecil or Baltimore counties.

Michael Perrone, of Belcamp, said he would have to pass the district offices of two other congressional districts on his way to the office for his own District 2.

Perrone said that is because District 2 was "butchered" so Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger would win elections.

He got a round of applause from the crowd as he urged the committee to "put an end to the act of gerrymandering and draw sensible boundaries."

Meanwhile, Dave Pridgeon, of Harford Campaign for Liberty, delivered his usual fiery speech about government being out of control. He said Maryland's current district map was acknowledged as one of the top three most gerrymandered in the country.

"We assemble here today to go through a sham exercise," he said, speaking to the audience instead of the committee members. "We know the fix is in for drawing a new map so Maryland becomes seven-to-one Democrat… What we have before us with Mr. Miller and Mr. Busch is youngsters who say, 'I am going to do it because I can get away with it.' It may be legal, but gentlemen, you have no moral compass to guide your actions. We have to bring an end to constructing contorted, illogical districts just so Mr. Busch and Mr. Miller can stay in office and increase the power of the party."

Del. Susan McComas suggested 35B remain a single-member district, and said single-member districts are more democratic and responsive.

"Now more than ever, this is the time. It's important to keep legislative districts compact and communities of interest together," she said.

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