New campaign finance reports show little activity

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman raised only $500 in campaign cash since Thanksgiving, and spent $47,666 according to the latest campaign finance reports due Wednesday. But don't feel too sorry for him.

Re-elected to a second and final four-year term, the Democratic executive has $439,668 left in the bank for whatever run he might make in 2014, which is a lot more than any other county official reported, although not all the reports were immediately available. He said he didn't do any fundraising after the election.

"We ended with a decent amount. I wanted to give people a break," he said. "We're creating our plan for the future," though the goal might be unclear.

County Councilwoman Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat who won a close race for a second term, picked up $14,319 after the election and has $31,785 left. She got $10,000 in donations of $1,000 or more, including $2,000 from Phillip Carroll, whose family owns historic Doughoregan Manor.

Why would people contribute after an election?

"We're fundraising all the time," said Watson, who said some contributions were promised before the election but arrived late.

State Sen. James N. Robey, a Democrat, had enough left over from his successful re-election effort to repay a $45,000 loan he and his wife Janet made to his 2006 campaign, and still has $27,368 left. He raised only $354 during the period.

Republican state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman reported raising $14,800, half from business, medical and energy political action committees, and has $20,188 left. Senate Majority Leader Edward J. Kasemeyer raised a modest $2,950 and has $47,342 left.

Redistricting euphoria

The words "councilmanic redistricting" can quickly glaze the eyes of most voters, but the once-a-decade, post-census process excites political junkies with visions of power and control up for grabs.

"I love redistricting," former Maryland Del. Neil Quinter declared to about 30 members of the Columbia Democratic Club — which he once headed — during a recent meeting at which redistricting of the Howard County Council was discussed. With the advent of computer mapping and census data showing how much and where Howard's population has grown since 2000, redrawing the lines to guarantee nearly equal representation for residents of each district can seem like a complex video game with political dominance of the council as the ultimate goal.

David Marker, another Democratic activist who headed Howard's 2001 citizens commission on redistricting, reviewed Howard's history at the Jeffers Hill Community Center meeting Jan. 12 and pointed out the strategic importance of the process. "It's amazing what redistricting can do in a fair and equitable way," he said.

"It is political in the good sense of that word," Marker said. "You are choosing boundaries for partisan offices. I think it's a very democratic process as long as it's done openly."

Howard council members ran countywide until 1986, and a dispute between the Democratic council and Republican County Executive Charles I. "Chuck" Ecker in 1991 led to the current system. Republicans held a majority of council seats for only one term, from 1994 to 1998.

A resolution creating a new seven-member citizens commission to suggest ways to redraw the boundaries of the county's five council districts is due for introduction before the council in February. Republican and Democratic parties each nominate three commission members, and the council chooses the chair.

The current council members — four Democrats and one Republican — will have the final say either late this year or early in 2012. Their decisions will set the lines for the next two elections, in 2014 and 2018. To be legal, the districts must be compact, contiguous and within 5 percent up or down from the perfectly equal population. In 2001, that perfect middle was 49,568 and the end district ranged from a low of 47,841 in District 3 (covering North Laurel, Savage and parts of east Columbia), and 50,120 in District 1 (covering Ellicott City and Elkridge).

Estimates are that Howard's population has grown substantially since then, probably more in the east than the west, so the lines must be moved. Detailed census figures for 2010 haven't come out yet.

Since Democrats control the council, they will likely choose one of their own as commission chair, giving them a 4-3 edge on the commission, but Marker said the process is far from cut and dried.

"The question becomes, do you want a safe 3-2 split?" he said. If so, the lines can be drawn to emphasize Democratic strength in the three districts that include parts of Columbia. That's what Democrats were shooting for a decade ago, when they held three of the five council seats. The result was Republicans and people more likely to vote their way concentrated in District 5, covering the western and southern county, and in District 1.

In 2006, of course, the equation changed when Democrat Courtney Watson took the District 1 seat after Republican Chris Merdon left it to run for county executive. So now that the Democrats have a 4-1 edge, the question for them becomes how to redraw the lines to keep that dominance even after the current members leave office. Watson might run for county executive, but all five members are eligible for just one more council term under county law, meaning a whole new council must be chosen in 2018.

If Calvin Ball "gets 80 percent of the vote, then Courtney [Watson] doesn't win," Marker told the group. "It's just how competitive are you comfortable making [districts]?"

Republicans say that they want a fair result, though across the country, both parties use the process to vie for political advantage. A decade ago, the Republican option would have concentrated loyal Democrats in a central Columbia district that would have straddled Route 29, diluting Democratic voters in the other four districts and giving Republican candidates a better chance to win.

Del. Warren E. Miller, a Republican who served on the last redistricting commission, said Democrats unfairly packed too many Republican voters in District 5, now represented by Republican Greg Fox. "How much do people in Mount Hebron have in common with people in North Laurel?" Miller asked, noting that both areas are now in District 5, by far the largest district geographically in the county. "I tried to balance things out," Miller said, complaining that Columbia has too many council members now who represent various villages.

"I'm sure the game afoot is they will want to gerrymander it," Miller said.

Marker rejected the criticism. "There is no perfectly neutral plan," he told the group. Later, he defended the results of a decade ago. "The differences [between districts] were well within the limits allowed," he said.

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