ANNAPOLIS – When the Maryland General Assembly convened for the year Wednesday, it lacked a resident of one of the 24 major state jurisdictions – Caroline County.
Redistricting put parts of Caroline County into two legislative districts, and neither elected a Caroline County resident. Delegate Robert Thornton Jr., D-Caroline, who lost his seat in 1994, was the last county resident to serve in the State House, according to the State Board of Elections Web site.
Caroline County is split roughly in half, between Districts 36 and 37B. Although several past plans to get the county its own representative were unsuccessful, Delegate Adelaide C. Eckardt, R-Dorchester, said the county does have a voice in the delegation.
“Just because there is or isn’t a resident delegate, counties can be creative in how they debate an issue,” said Eckardt, whose District 37B includes part of Caroline County. She cited an example from her home county a few years ago, in which some Dorchester citizens pushed to defeat a bill by recruiting delegates in other parts of the state, despite the county administration’s support of the bill.
Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, said last year the Senate approved an amendment to the state Constitution requiring districts be redrawn to guarantee every county a representative, but the measure died in the House of Delegates.
Colburn will support a measure this session to allow Caroline County a “shadow” representative, or a non-voting member in the House of Delegates, similar to the role held by the District of Columbia’s U.S. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
John Cole, president of the Caroline County commissioners, said he supports such a non-voting representative, but only until an amendment is passed to give Caroline County the representation it deserves.
“I believe representation for a political subdivision is in concert with what our founding fathers had in mind,” Cole said. “They did it at the federal level. Why should the state of Maryland do less?”
Caroline County did get a chance to present its legislative case to the Eastern Shore delegates, which met with county administrators in late fall.
Caroline’s two top priorities this year, said Caroline County Administrator Charles C. Cawley, are extending and increasing the county’s excise tax to $3,500 per lot and supporting the One Maryland Tax Credit Program, an economic development initiative.