CECIL CHATTER: Gush, The Bus, and Water Wings Redistricting

February 26, 2011

Gov. O’Malley, USDA Secretary, Gush Over Grant

It sounded like a political lovefest when Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley joined U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in a conference call with reporters a few days ago to announce $5 million in “hunger-free community” grants in eight states, including $923,000 for Maryland.

Vilsack is a former Democratic governor of Iowa. O’Malley is the new chairman of the Democratic Governor’s Association.

“I think it’s fair to say there’s no governor in the country that’s been more committed to this effort to end childhood hunger than Martin O’Malley,” Secretary Vilsack said. And if that wasn’t enough, Vilsack added, “no one has done a better job of this than Maryland and I am excited to see Maryland receive one of these grants and I know it will be put to good use.”

Maryland’s grant will go to the governor’s Office for Children to promote enrollment in food stamps (now dubbed “SNAP”) and school nutrition programs for eligible children.

O’Malley said that there are many eligible children who have fallen through the cracks in the nutrition programs and several counties in particular have lower participation rates than the numbers of eligible children. He cited two Eastern Shore counties—Caroline and Dorchester—as well as Garrett and Allegany counties in western Maryland, along with parts of Anne Arundel, Frederick, Carroll and even Montgomery counties.

Cecil County was not mentioned, but one initiative mentioned by Secretary Vilsack caught our attention. Vilsack said USDA is seeking to promote “full scale grocery stores in rural areas” by working with the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Governor and Mr. Secretary, look no further than Cecilton or anyplace below the Canal for that initiative. Southern Cecil County has been without even a limited neighborhood grocery for years, since the old Cecilton Market closed. We had hopes for the property being re-opened as a grocery but recently it was proposed for conversion to apartments.

The Royal Farms at the Cecilton crossroads is finishing construction and is expected to open soon. But prepared sandwiches, chips and sodas, along with gas pumps and a carwash, is not what we—or Secretary Vilsack—had in mind. We long for the days of the old Slavin operation of the market, and the top quality, hand-cut fresh beef and chicken it served.

A few years ago, Food Lion looked at Cecilton but chose instead to locate in Millington, in Kent County. So southern Cecil residents will have to continue their grocery pilgrimages to Middletown, DE or Elkton, at a current gas cost of $7 roundtrip.
[See USDA transcript here: http://bit.ly/htHZ85

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Delegate Michael Smigiel Misses the Bus for Shore Counties

The ‘60’s writer Ken Kesey famously said, “You’re either on the bus or off the bus.” Del. Michael D. Smigiel (R-36) was off the bus recently when representatives of Delmarva Community Services, which provides local bus services in Caroline and Kent counties, in the 36th District, as well as Dorchester and Talbot counties, came calling at the House Judiciary Committee, of which Smigiel is a member.

Del. Adelaide Eckardt (R-37B), representing Caroline, Dorchester and Talbot counties, appeared before the panel to push her bill, HB94, to include the bus transit system under the state’s Tort Claims Liability Act, which would lower insurance premiums for the non-profit group’s bus services by $42,000 a year.

Santo Grande, CEO of the non-profit, said the program serves 300,000 passengers a year and covered 2 million miles last year, transporting rural area residents to doctors’ appointments, dialysis treatment and other services. The program receives funds from the state as well as local county governments, as well as fares paid by passengers.

County-government operated transit systems are already covered by the state Tort Claims Liability Act, which limits damages in lawsuits to $200,000 per individual or $500,000 per incident. The Shore counties covered by DCS are too rural to operate their own individual programs so they rely on the non-profit to provide services across county lines.

Similar programs in Carroll County and Garrett County were granted inclusion in the tort act in 2006 and 2007, respectively, by the General Assembly. But the trial lawyer-dominated Judiciary Committee was having none of it for the Shore counties this year.

Del. Luiz Simmons (D-Montgomery), a lawyer, led the charge against the proposal, saying it would set too small a pool of damages that people hurt in an accident could sue to obtain.

Del. Michael A. Mc Dermott (R-Worcester and Wicomico counties), the former mayor of Pokomoke City, was sympathetic to the plight of the Shore counties and declared, to laughter in the committee room, “Maybe you’d support a tax on attorneys to pay for this.”

The cameras in the hearing room only show speakers and do not pan the room. Not a peep was heard from Del. Smigiel although the bill affected two counties in his district. When the roll call was taken in the committee on 2/18/11, Smigiel voted against the bill, which was defeated on a 16-4 vote. Del. McDermott supported it.

Vote link: http://mlis.state.md.us/2011rs/votes_comm/hb0094_jud.pdf

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Water Wings Needed in Congressional Redistricting?

We’ve watched with interest some of the map-drawing scenarios that have been swirling around the web and political circles since the new Census figures came out earlier this month. With some software, census data and election returns, you can mash up some interesting what-ifs for the upcoming redistricting process that will re-draw the boundaries for Maryland’s eight congressional districts.

In part due to the more than 17 percent population growth in Cecil County, the 1st District now has more than 22,000 too many people to comply with the one-person, one-vote mandates of redistricting. [See Cecil Times census report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/02/census-cecil-county-population-grew-17-6-in-past-decade/

The 1st District, represented by Republican Andy Harris after his solid victory in November, now covers all of the Eastern Shore and parts of Harford, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. The Eastern Shore is likely to remain intact in the district, so the voters to be kicked out of the district will come from the western shore.

Harris is one of only two Republicans in the state’s eight-member congressional delegation and Democrats are burning the midnight software trying to figure out how to re-draw the lines to give ousted Democrat Frank Kratovil another shot at regaining the seat.

One scenario that seems out of the running is a return to a many years ago configuration of the 1st to include southern Maryland.

The explosive population growth there especially in Charles County, indicates that the area is likely to figure into some heavy line-drawing for the 5th district, currently represented by Democrat Steny Hoyer. The 5th District has over 45,000 too many residents to comply with one person, one vote rules. But Hoyer is the powerful Minority Whip of the U.S. House and a former state Senate president, so the political rule of thumb seems to be what Steny wants, Steny will get. The population growth in Charles County is heavily Democratic, coming from families relocating from Prince George’s County.

But one lesson of the old southern Maryland inclusion in the 1st district is the waterwings school of gerrymandering. In the past, the Eastern Shore was linked, over the waters of the Bay, through southern Anne Arundel and on into southern Maryland. Some new creative line-drawing could bring about some new waterwings scenarios.

Some water-touching portions of southern and eastern Baltimore County are blue-collar Democratic areas, with increasing minority populations, and if the map-makers could figure out how to get the gentrified waterfront neighborhoods of Canton and Fells Point in Baltimore into the mix, there could be some interesting possibilities.

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