Howard residents share thoughts on congressional and state redistricting

Howard County residents had the opportunity Tuesday to weigh in on how the state's congressional and legislative districts will look for the next 10 years, and while their thoughts were largely conceptual, a couple of themes were common: Keep neighborhoods together and avoid gerrymandering.

"One of the things that really dismayed me was the gerrymandering that I saw where you have districts like my third (congressional) district, which is completely spread apart," Columbia resident Tonya Tiffany said at a public hearing, held by the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia. "It reflected badly on the Democratic Party in the state."

Tiffany was among the 10 people who testified at the hearing, one of 12 the committee is holding throughout the state before drafting recommendations for Gov.Martin O'Malley.

O'Malley will submit his final Congressional redistricting plan to the General Assembly, which will discuss and vote on the plan during a special session in October. The General Assembly will then tackle O'Malley's plan for state legislative redistricting during its normal 2012 legislative session, starting in January.

Districts are redrawn using U.S. Census data so that each will have roughly the same population. According to 2010 data, the ideal Congressional district would have a population of about 722,000 and the ideal state legislative district a population of about 123,000.

Congressional Districts 3 and 7, which both include parts of Howard, have fewer residents than the ideal, along with Districts 2 and 4, and therefore will most likely gain population during redistricting. The other four Congressional districts are over the ideal and therefore more susceptible to losing population.

The three state legislative districts that represent Howard — Districts 9, 12 and 13 — are all higher than the ideal and would likely lose population.

Sen.Allan Kittleman, the Republican who represents District 9, said his is one of the districts in the state that has grown the most.

"I'm not going to tell you who I want in my district," he told the committee, but "please try to keep communities together as best as you can. I know it's not an easy job."

Kittleman said he read that Democrats in Frederick asked the committee to make the 6th Congressional District, which has long been represented by Republican Roscoe Bartlett, more competitive.

"If that's going to be our standard, make that a standard throughout the state," Kittleman said, referring to the districts in which its difficult for a Republican to get elected.

Another District 9 Republican, Del. Warren Miller, told the panel that his one request is that Howard have only a few state legislative districts, like the three it has now.

"It seems to work a lot better" than when there were six, he said.

Columbia resident William Campbell, the Republican who challenged Peter Franchot in the 2010 comptroller race, said he sees the redistricting process as the state's opportunity to right past wrongs.

"Our current Congressional map looks very gerrymandered," he said. "I believe that we could look at the density, find the densest populations and go out from that."

Campbell also emphasized the importance of creating districts where minority candidates can succeed.

"About 40 percent of our population now is minority, and it's not reflected in their representation," he said.

Ellicott City resident Angie Boyter, who's Dunloggin neighborhood is divided between legislative Districts 9A and 12B, asked the committee to unite her community.

"I just want to have the same representatives that my neighbors have," she said. "The division is so arbitrary that even one of the legislators who represents the district could not tell me where the boundary is."

North Laurel resident Jeff Robinson, who ran for a District 13 delegate seat in 2010 but lost, also said neighborhoods should be kept together if possible. But more importantly, he said, the boundaries between districts have to be recognizable to residents.

Robinson said he learned during his campaign that, "many people in Howard County really don't know what edge of the line they're on.". As a result, he said, they became disengaged in the political process.

Robinson's advice: "People will become more involved if they can recognize how the structure of what they're being involved in is set up."

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