By Erich Wagner
When Maryland lawmakers convened Wednesday, nobody living in Caroline County showed up in either the House or the Senate.
The same has been true the past 14 legislative sessions. Since Del. Robert Thornton left office, the Eastern Shore County has had no lawmaker residing within its bounds. Its tiny population of 33,000 is split between two legislative districts shared with neighboring counties, and Caroline County is usually outvoted.
Legislators from the Shore are trying to win a delegate for the county this year.
They’ve introduced bills in both chambers that would alter the state’s constitution to require that each county in the state be represented by a member of the House. Somerset County does not have a delegate, but it is represented by resident Sen. Lowell Stoltzfus, a Republican who is retiring this year.
“I know that our forefathers intended every county to be represented,” said Sen. Richard Colburn, who represents a Middle Shore district that includes Caroline County. “People feel that they should have someone living in their county.”
Similar bills were heard last year, as well as in 2006 and 2004, but never passed. The bill amends the state constitution, so it requires a three-fifths vote in both chambers, followed by ratification by popular referendum.
Former Gov. Harry Hughes, who lives in Caroline County and represented the jurisdiction as a state senator, said he thinks lawmakers should consider the change. When Hughes was a lawmaker, the county had two delegates and a senator.
Hughes is not optimistic.”I don’t think the prospects are very bright,” Hughes said. “I just don’t think they’ll be able to get it done politically.”
If the constitutional amendment passed this year, it would be in place prior to the legislative redistricting that will follow this year’s U.S. Census count.
Caroline’s problem stems from a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled legislatures had to reapportioned based on “one man, one vote.” This threw out Maryland’s longtime system that gave each county, no matter how small, a resident senator and delegates.
Jack Cole, chairman of the Caroline County Commissioners, said said he was grateful that the delegation filed the bill, but he said he was “very doubtful that it would gain any traction at all.” He added that with the Census happening, “we may have a remedy in the realignment [of legislative districts], but we’ll have to wait and see.”
Asked about the difficulties caused by not having a resident delegate, he said despite having several delegates and senators who represent Caroline County, he’s not too certain that the same amount of concern is given if they don’t actually reside there. Getting legislation through is “a lot more difficult” without a resident delegate, he said.
“There’s the idea of one man, one vote,” Cole said. “Well, we have 32,000 people, and no vote.”
Len Lazarick and Andy Rosen contributed to this report.