Redistricting, part of a larger partisan maneuver to squeeze every ounce of political gain for Maryland Democrats, has changed the complexion of Montgomery County.
If the 6th Congressional District were a person, that cursed patient would be suffering from major multiple-personality disorder.
Stretching 200 miles from urbanized Montgomery, through Western Maryland to the rural peninsula of Allegany and Garrett counties, the newly designed — some say gerrymandered — district doesn’t need one congressman, it needs two.
The two mainstream candidates, incumbent Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Frederick County and Democratic challenger John Delaney of Montgomery County are as different as a blizzard at Deep Creek Lake and a traffic jam on Interstate 270. Libertarian candidate Nickalous Mueller of Baltimore also is seeking the seat.
At 86, Bartlett is a fascinating character who has held the seat for 20 years, a rare Republican in the Democratic-dominated Maryland congressional delegation. He’s a scientist, farmer and one of the original congressional founders of the tea party. In parts of rural Western Maryland, Roscoe still walks on water.
Delaney is the son of an electrician whose literature notes attended college on a union scholarship. He is a self-made millionaire who built his own companies and came out of the blue with lots of campaign cash to shock the Democratic machine to take the April primary from anointed candidate, Montgomery County state Sen. Rob Garagiola.
Given the politically diverse nature of the sprawling district, both candidates have stressed their independence from party orthodoxy, with Bartlett pointing to his votes for civil liberties and Delaney, who is largely an unknown quantity, promising not to trade his vote to anyone for anything.
To get elected in what could be a closer vote than some pundits believe, such a strategy is not surprising. However, Bartlett, by most measures, votes 90 percent of the time with the GOP majority in the House, which he attributes mostly to “procedural votes.” Yet some of those obstructionist votes helped solidify partisan gridlock at a time when compromise was needed more than ever to help the nation recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Bartlett also was criticized by other Republican challengers during the primary for failing to have much significant legislation to show for two decades in Congress. Some of his opponents said it was time for a change, for fresh ideas for a fresh new district.
They were right, which is why Delaney is the best choice to represent the district.
This is not a normal district and Delaney is not a normal Democrat. His capitalist background has more in common with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney than President Obama, driving his views on the importance of balancing the budget and reinvigorating a sluggish economy. His views on social issues, however, fall well within the Democratic mainstream.
Undoubtedly, Delaney brings some questions with him. He doesn’t live in the congressional district, but some believe that was the result of Democratic powerbrokers in Annapolis redrawing the district to serve Garagiola by moving Delaney out of it (he only lives about 0.2 miles from the new district line). He also failed to vote in two elections in recent years, one in 2006 and another in 2010.
During the campaign, he repeatedly has visited the far corners of the 6th District, pledging to be a good listener to the concerns of all of its constituents. He believes his ideas for a more competitive economy will benefit all residents, where more unites than separates them when it comes to the need for jobs and infrastructure improvement. As for the voting oversight, Delaney’s camp stresses that he has voted in every other election since 2004, and his recent history is one of engagement.
Regardless of who is elected president, most Americans demand and hope that a new era of effective governance will emerge in Congress from the partisan meltdown of the last two years. Delaney, who sounds as if he would be comfortable working both sides of the aisle, is uniquely equipped to be a player in that new era.
8th Congressional District
Four men want the right to serve the new, drastically redrawn 8th district. What this means is that whoever wins the Nov. 6 balloting will have to thread a difficult needle: How can one adequately represent the largely conservative, largely rural parts of Frederick and Carroll counties grafted onto the largely liberal, largely suburban portion of Montgomery County?
All four men are well aware of what’s ahead; none of them appears callow.
The incumbent, Rep. Christopher Van Hollen, the Democrat from Kensington is the best choice for the newly minted district.
For 10 years, Van Hollen has worked his way up the congressional ranks, recently serving as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He played the role of Paul Ryan for Vice President Joe Biden’s debate preparation. He served on the “supercommittee” that weighed massive cuts to the budget but utlimately failed under the weight of partisanship.
These points on his resume will be reasons for his Montgomery constituents to send him to Washington for a sixth term. They’ll cheer his pro-choice voting record and his support for the Purple Line mass-transit line. Van Hollen stands for policies, such as the Affordable Care Act, that they want to see advanced.
But for many new constituents from Frederick and Carroll counties, those points would be reasons to look for an alternative. Let’s face it, no sitting congressman has reason to be proud of a dysfunctional Congress hellbent on partisan infighting over solid governing. As a reliable footsoldier for the Democrats, Van Hollen deserves some of the blame. (Can anyone even use the word “supercommittee” without a tinge of irony?)
Van Hollen’s opponents are well-intentioned, but unready for the Kleig lights of Capitol Hill. Two of his opponents are from third parties: Libertarian Mark Grannis and Green Party candidate George Gluck.
The most viable Van Hollen challenger is Republican Ken Timmerman, an investigative reporter who has traveled extensively in the Middle East. Though he trades heavily on that former life, sometimes his comments sound crafted from right-wing blogs rather than first-hand investigation. As one would expect, he is everything Van Hollen is not. He opposes the Purple Line and the Affordable Care Act. He proposes across-the-board spending cuts to avoid sequestration and the vital programs that could be harmed.
Although many voters hunger for an alternative to the gridlock in Washington, Timmerman won’t provide it. Given the choices, Van Hollen should represent the district, bringing a willingness to work through myriad challenges and champion the many interests of a more diverse district.
3rd Congressional District
The 3rd district, which now includes an oddly shaped chunk of east-central Montgomery and stretches to the Chesapeake to the east, the incumbent Democrat John Sarbanes stands out.
Sarbanes is an avid supporter of quality public education, has called for sweeping campaign finance reform, supports mass transit and has vowed to restore faith in government. He has received only glancing opposition from Eric Knowles, a Republican from Baltimore County, and Libertarian Paul W. Drgos Jr. from Anne Arundel.
Footnote: The district of Donna Edwards, the Democrat who once represented parts of Montgomery County, no longer covers Montgomery County.