Dems, GOP say new House seat in Howard is up for grabs

Both Democrats and Republicans in Howard County believe they have a chance to win a new seat in the House of Delegates proposed for the area around Ellicott City.

The added seat comes as part of a state legislative redistricting map put forth this month by a panel appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, and would mirror Howard's most competitive County Council district — won in a tight race last year by Democrat Courtney Watson.

"I think the map gives us some excellent opportunities," said Howard's Democratic Central Committee Chair, Michael C.A. McPherson.

But Republicans say the added seat could be a benefit to them, as that area has also produced Republican council members, such as Christopher B. Merdon, who served two terms before Watson. And in the last council election, Watson defeated Republican Robert L. Flanagan by a relatively narrow 5.5 percentage points.

"If you look across the state, it's bad," said Loretta Shields, chair of the Howard County Republican Central Committee. But she added, that the map "could be a benefit for Republicans in Howard."

Under the plan submitted by the five-member redistricting advisory committee last week, another delegate's seat in Howard would be added to a newly drawn legislative District 9A. The current District 9A encompasses the western part of the county and parts of Carroll County.

The new map would also combine Districts 12A and 12B, which cover Howard and Baltimore counties, creating an at-large election for those three delegates, including Howard County Del. Elizabeth Bobo. Bobo's current District 12B does not extend beyond Columbia, but under the new map, she and Baltimore County Democrats Steven J. DeBoy Sr. and James E. Malone Jr. would have to run elections across county lines.

Redistricting occurs after each federal census in order to keep districts roughly equal in population. The new map will be considered by the General Assembly in the legislative session that starts in January. The final version would be in place for the 2014, 2018 and 2022 elections.

In addition to shifting District 9A east, the proposed map would shift District 9B from Carroll County into western Howard.

"The new map gives the Democratic Party an excellent opportunity in 9A and also 9B," McPherson said, adding the area around Ellicott City has produced Democrats, such as Watson.

Shields noted that the current District 9A in Howard is represented entirely by Republicans: Del. Gail H. Bates, Del. Warren E. Miller and Sen. Allan H. Kittleman.

While Miller agreed the adjustment would not affect his party much, he argued that "there's not a need for a single 9A District," saying it should be an at-large district, as District 12 would be under the plan.

Kittleman said he did not believe the changes would hurt Republicans in his district, as the plan would add several precincts from District 13 in the south. Those include Fulton and Highland, which are represented by the County Council's only Republican, Greg Fox.

While his district would not be affected much, he said, the map is "reckless and irresponsible."

He said he believes the newly drawn District 9A was drawn to accommodate a run for delegate by Watson, who has been mentioned as a possible contender for county executive. Del. Guy Guzzone is also considered a likely candidate.

"It certainly looks like it was drawn for Councilwoman Watson. If not, it's somewhat easier for a Democrat," he said. "Nobody is really disputing that."

Watson said however, "My interest is on a local level," adding "I will not be pursuing a delegate position at this point."

She declined to say if she will run for county executive.

"Right now, I'm really focused on the County Council," she said. "There's so much work to be done in my job now."

While Bates said she too believed the new boundaries of District 9A were drawn for Watson or another Democrat, she added, "It still has potential for Republicans."

In addition to District 9A and 9B, Shields, the Republican Central Committee chairwoman, said she thought Republicans could pick up another House seat in District 12.

While Bobo's district tends to be more liberal, Shields said the change could provide an opening for a Republican candidate, since the southwestern Baltimore County District 12A tends to lean conservative.

"I'd love to pick up another delegate seat," she said, adding that the central committee will begin seeking out potential candidates for the next election, though she said she has no one specific in mind.

"I don't think it's going to be a cakewalk" for Democrats, she said of the new plan in Howard.

While Republicans might be eyeing Bobo's seat, the Columbia delegate said she would not be deterred by running a campaign across two counties.

"It does not discourage me," Bobo said. But she said it would affect how a campaign would have to be run.

And while she said her own district is pretty liberal compared with the Baltimore County side, she said, "There have been times where I have been the only Democrat voting with the Republicans on an issue."

She said, "I don't shy away from hard work and controversial things," though she declined to say whether she has any plans to run in the next election.

In addition to becoming an at-large district, the 12th could gain some Columbia precincts.

"I'd pick up new precincts in east Columbia I've never represented," said Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Democrat. "It's not too drastic of a change, pretty good for me," he said.

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