Redistricting Puts 1st Dist. in Flux; Rep. Andy Harris Takes it in Stride

August 11, 2011

(First of two articles)

Rep. Andy Harris doesn’t know where his political home will be after the upcoming redistricting this fall but for now, the First District Republican is spending his summer “vacation” working the small towns and waterways of the Eastern Shore.

“I enjoy representing the Shore,” he told Cecil Times on Wednesday in an exclusive interview over lunch in Galena. Harris had just finished a boat tour of the Bohemia River with a Cecil County waterman who harvests catfish.

“I personally hope that, for political reasons, they don’t divide the Eastern Shore,” he said. “They” are Democrats.

Harris is resigned to the fact that Democrats are firmly in control of the redistricting process. Democrats hold all but one seat on the governor’s redistricting panel; the state’s congressional delegation that is playing a major role in behind-the-scenes maneuvers is dominated by Democrats; and a Democratic governor will present his redistricting plan to a Democratic-controlled General Assembly during a special legislative session in October.

“It’s almost shameless partisan politics,” Harris said, and a process that makes voters “cynical about government.”

The current 1st District includes all of the Eastern Shore as well as parts of Harford, Baltimore, and Anne Arundel counties. It was reliably Republican, although with a moderate hue, for years until Harris beat incumbent Wayne Gilchrest in a GOP primary but lost by a handful of votes to moderate Democrat Frank Kratovil in 2008. Harris came back to soundly defeat Kratovil last November.

Now Democrats are looking to increase the state’s House delegation in Washington from 6 Democrats and 2 Republicans to at least a 7-1 split. The question is whether Harris will be the redistricting target or his fellow Republican Roscoe Bartlett, in the Western Maryland-based 6th district. (Columnist Josh Kurtz, writing on the Center Maryland website last month, outlined the possible scenarios and quoted unnamed sources as saying the 6th district would be the likely target.)

Due to population growth primarily in Cecil County and the western shore portions of the district recorded in the 2010 census, the First must be redrawn to lose about 20,000 people to reach the ideal ‘one person, one vote’ size of 721,529 residents

“The Eastern Shore is 55 percent of the district,” Harris noted, so parts of the western shore would still have to be included in the 1st. But any carving up of the Shore, to dilute the Republican advantage, would be counterproductive to the interest of citizens, he said. “The Shore is the anchor” of the First district, Harris said.

Some scenarios would shift some lower Shore counties across the Bay to be included in a southern Maryland district while other plans would keep the Shore intact but add in Democratic areas in southern Anne Arundel county and possibly even Prince George’s county.

But if Bartlett is targeted by moving northern Montgomery county Democrats into his district, Harris could be home free with a possible shift of heavily Republican Carroll county to the First, while pushing some Democratic enclaves on the western shore out of the First, to create a safe GOP district.

Maryland Republicans came up with their own redistricting map recently—which threw Harris’ Cockeysville home in Baltimore county out of his own district. Harris was philosophical about it, saying the GOP map tried to make the point that the district maps “should respect jurisdictional lines wherever possible.” The map put him in Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger’s district—“Or they put Dutch into my district; it depends on how you look at it,” Harris said with a laugh. As the current lines are drawn, “I live 600 yards from the 6th district,” and he is close to the lines for the 2nd district as well.

“I think people look at these maps and wonder what is going on,” he said.

Harris also has a residence in Cambridge so if his Cockeysville home is pushed out of the 1st he could declare the Shore home as his official residence, although members of Congress are not required to live in their district as long as they are a resident of the state.

Harris said he had no intentions of making any exploratory forays outside the boundaries of his current district in anticipation of possible redistricting changes. “Right now my job is to take care of my First District,” he said.

But he has also been pumping up his re-election campaign fund, raising $488,551 this year, according to Federal Election Commission reports. After expenditures, he had $414,641 cash on hand.

Depending on how the redistricting scenario plays out, Harris may have an easier ride financially than in his last race, which was one of the most expensive in the nation, with Harris spending over $2.3 million and Kratovil spending $2.6 million. A more Republican district would ease the financial pressure. But a less-Republican district could intensify the campaign cash chase.

[Next: Harris Defends Budget/Debt Ceiling Stance]

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