Mr. Van Hollen goes to Middletown -- Gazette.Net


This story was corrected on Sept. 28, 2012. An explanation follows the story.

Even among his new constituents, U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. is a familiar face to some.

As Van Hollen (D-Dist. 8) shook hands Sept. 18 with Bob Brenengen in his Middletown restaurant, Main Cup, the restaurateur said he recognized Van Hollen from his regular appearances on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

The two chatted about the restaurant business, with Brenengen explaining how he had used federal, state and local tax credits to restore the Main Cup building and talking about the expansion project he was getting ready to start.

After a few minutes of conversation, Van Hollen was off to continue a walking tour of the town with Burgess John Miller, learning more about the businesses and history of the region he hopes to represent after the Nov. 6 election.

The five-term incumbent faces Republican Ken Timmerman for the seat in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District. Both candidates live in Kensington.

Timmerman is an investigative reporter who has worked as the lead investigator in a lawsuit against Iran by families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

With the redrawing of Maryland’s congressional districts, Van Hollen has much more territory to represent. A district that previously had occupied the western half of Montgomery County now stretches from Westminster in the east to Middletown in the west and from Bethesda north to the Pennsylvania border.

Van Hollen visited Middletown on Sept. 18 as part of a campaign trip that took him from McDaniel College in Westminster in the morning, to stops in Emmitsburg and Hood College in Frederick before going to meet voters at The Great Frederick Fair in the evening.

Van Hollen said that despite the obvious demographic differences in his new district, when he talks to people he finds they have more common interests than differences.

Everyone is concerned about making sure their children can get a good education and small businesses have a chance to succeed, as well as in infrastructure issues such as roads, bridges and traffic congestion, he said.

The newer areas of his district have more agriculture interests, and Van Hollen said he’s supported efforts to help farmers with the costs of preventing runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.

“Farmers should not have to bear the costs alone,” he said.

The key to representing any district is to meet with people and show a willingness to listen and find out what their problems are, Van Hollen said.

Maryland’s new districts weren’t drawn in a way that tried to put similar communities together, said Todd Eberly, a political science professor from St. Mary’s College in Saint Mary’s City.

Van Hollen’s “incredibly sprawling” district stretches from the Washington, D.C., line to very rural parts of the state, with the only real remnants of the old 8th District in Washington suburbs such as Bethesda or Chevy Chase, he said.

“Even in Montgomery County, his constituency is different than it was before,” Eberly said.

The new districts proposed by Maryland Democrats are the subject of referendum on the November ballot, but the outcome will have no bearing on the 2012 election.

Van Hollen defeated opponent George English in the April primary, capturing 92 percent of the vote. Timmerman beat fellow Republicans Gus Alzona, Shelly Skolnick and Dave Wallace with 46 percent of the vote.

Van Hollen serves as the top-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, and has formerly served as the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He also delivered a speech at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month.

It’s not often that federal officials come to small communities like Middletown, so Miller said he was glad Van Hollen could make the time.

Miller said he and the congressman talked about the possibility of getting some federal funding to help pay for renovating Md. Alternate Route 40, which makes up the town’s Main Street, including repairing the town’s main water line, which is more than 100 years old.

They also talked about other infrastructure needs, Miller said.

After Miller’s tour, Van Hollen praised Middletown’s small-town feel.

The town has clearly worked very hard on its Main Street area and had developed a strategy for bringing small businesses to the town, he said.

Van Hollen said he would try to get federal funds to match the state funds for improvements to the roadway and sidewalks along Main Street.

But Eberly said Middletown and other rural parts of the district will probably always be second on Van Hollen’s agenda.

He said Van Hollen will probably lose in Frederick and Carroll counties, making the Montgomery County portion of his district even more important.

The motivation will be to represent the areas that hold the most votes for him in the more heavily populated and Democratic Montgomery County, according to Eberly.

If he pays too much attention to the more rural parts of the district, he runs the risk of inspiring a primary challenge from the Montgomery region, Eberly said.

“His seat of power is in Montgomery County, and I think that’s probably going to continue to be the case,” Eberly said.

Other candidates for the 8th Congressional District omitted from this story include George Gluck of the Green Party and Libertarian Mark Grannis.