WCRC meeting – August 2012

It was a more crowded room than usual this month, telling me the excitement is palpable for this November’s election. The additional crowd was treated to a pretty thorough presentation on the county’s redistricting process by Redistricting Committee Chair Joe Collins, with additional insight provided by County Council member Gail Bartkovich.

Of course, we did the usual preliminaries: the Lord’s Prayer, reading of the minutes, and introduction of distringuished guests as well as a quite involved Treasurer’s Report thanks to expenditures for the Crab Feast.

But when Collins introduced his subject, he noted that his previous outsider’s perspective was changed by becoming part of the process and trying to “herd cats.” The cats in question were the seven members of the Redistricting Committee, each recommended by an individual County Council member. It’s worthy of noting that, as Bartkovich explained, two Republicans selected Democratic members – one to make sure a member of their Central Committee was on the panel and another who selected a Democratic woman at the eleventh hour so there would be a female representative. (Presumably the one minority member was picked by the lone minority member of County Council, their only Democrat.) So what could have by rights been a 6-1 GOP majority was voluntarily made more bipartisan. (Hear that, Martin O’Malley?)

Collins pointed out the state’s process had “plenty of bad ideas” so the county’s goals were simple: districts which were compact and contiguous, with roughly equal population and minimizing movement from one district to another.

But the “compact” proved difficult to achieve with the mandate of having a minority district, Joe said. The goals of contiguous and equal in population were done quite well, with the deviations running at less than 100 people off the desired number for any district – compare that to the allowable of 5 percent, which in Wicomico County equals about 1,000 people more or less than an even five-way split. They were “just about as equal as we could get them,” said Joe. But it was hard not to shuffle people around between districts because, as Joe explained, the minority population had migrated somewhat and what was a majority-minority district when drawn in 2000 was no longer so. This map makes District 1 almost 60% minority.

(It’s also worth noting that the 2000 map drawn by a Democratic County Council had the two most Democratic districts as the smallest two and the most pronounced Republican district as the largest. This map is much more even-handed.)

Bartkovich filled us in a little bit on the process, telling those assembled that maps were sent to each municipality and each firehouse for public inspection. There were “very few comments,” she said, which in my opinion means the committee did a good job. (I wholeheartedly endorse this map.)

The one big complaint about this map came from the Board of Elections, which saw the number of precincts rise from 38 to 52. In part, though, the state is also at fault because of how they gerrymandered the county with its legislative districts. In contrast, the county’s redistricting committee tried to use natural and significant man-made boundaries to the fullest extent possible – case in point: the eastern half of the county is almost perfectly divided into two districts by U.S. 50.

Bartkovich announced it was likely the County Council would preserve this map, but with a “little tweaking.” Most of the changes sought were in the minority district, but others were more procedural: there are precincts with fewer than ten voters under this plan, so small portions may change for that sake. “Your committee did an excellent job,” Bartkovich told Collins. (I’m holding them to that, by the way.)

Turning to the Central Committee, Dave Parker related a number of upcoming events: a convention watch party at GOP headquarters on August 30 (to watch Mitt Romney accept his nomination), sign waving on August 31, the Addie Eckardt fundraiser I briefly detailed yesterday on September 9, Andy Harris’s Bull Roast on September 22, the state party’s Oktoberfest on October 19, and of course the Good Beer Festival and Autumn Wine Festival, where we will have a presence.

Cynthia Williams made the not-so-shocking announcement that the GOP headquarters was out of most Romney items except a lone t-shirt and some buttons. The same is true for Dan Bongino items, which Shawn Jester said they “can’t keep on the shelves.” (One reason for this I’ll share in an upcoming post.)

We received some good news from Woody Willing, who told us the local Board of Elections had done its job and purged unqualified voters from the voter rolls – most had come back as not living at the listed address. Over 900 voters were taken off from the most recent purge moved from active to the inactive list – now if other counties would do their job, Election Integrity Maryland wouldn’t have to nag them about it. Woody also had a minor victory to report on the scholarship front, as the WCRC scholarship will be listed by the Board of Education for this coming school year.

Speaking of EIM, Cathy Keim restated the group has online poll watcher training available and also announced that certain counties are crying out for Republican election judges – for example, Prince George’s County needs over 400. Locally, though, Keim announced “I have the utmost confidence in our election board.”

I duly noted (and was backed up by many others) that attendance at the Farm and Home Show was poor. Unfortunately, I also found out the awards were well-attended – but we had already pulled up stakes. That was my fault; I took the blame.

Bob Miller assessed that we “got through (the Crab Feast) okay” but he was ready to hand it over to a younger man. We indeed found someone who will take up the reins for next year.

Cynthia Williams, who is helping out with the Lower Shore headquarters, noted the hours of operation (10 to 8 weekdays, 10 to 4 Saturday) and added there are “lots of spaces on the signup boards.”

The annual Christmas Party will be December 2 at 5 p.m., announced Ann Suthowski. One change, though, will be the location as we move to Mister Paul’s Legacy for the event.

And while it wasn’t part of the agenda, there was a lot of talk about the “2016: Obama’s America” movie, which one observer called “a very unsettling movie…I can’t find fault with it.” Several in the crowd had already seen it, but it was recommended that the others make tracks to check it out.

Our next meeting is going to be unique as we leave the familiar confines of the Chamber of Commerce building to hold it at our Lower Shore headquarters on South Salisbury Boulevard. It will still be on the fourth Monday (September 24) at the same time.