WASHINGTON – When redistricting pushed his 4th District boundaries into northern Montgomery County, Rep. Albert Wynn gained about 48,000 new voters — five of whom have since donated to his campaign.
County Republicans say that is because Wynn does not pay attention to his new constituents in Montgomery County, a charge the Largo Democrat dismisses as “ridiculous.” He said he has made a point of spending time in the county, holding town hall meetings and listening to his new constituents.
Political columnist Blair Lee, one of the few Montgomery County residents who did kick in to Wynn’s campaign, has a simpler explanation.
“Montgomery countians don’t like being represented by a Prince Georgian,” Lee said, who writes a column for the Gazette newspapers. “I think that once they realize that he is a good representative, they’ll calm down.”
For Wynn — who is following the popular Connie Morella, a Republican who represented the district for 16 years — the grumbling is frustrating and, he believes, largely partisan.
“Other than the fact that I live in Prince George’s County,” Wynn said he divides his time between the two counties that make up his district. He said the claim that he neglects his Montgomery County constituents is “just not true.”
“We have worked very hard in Montgomery County to serve constituents in the new section of our district,” he said.
Before redistricting, Prince George’s County voters made up about 70 percent of the 4th District. But the lines were extended in 2001 to incorporate more of Montgomery County, including Laytonsville, Germantown and surrounding areas, which used to be part of Morella’s district.
“I think generally a lot of people are shocked to find out that they are not in Connie Morella’s district anymore,” said Tom Reinheimer, a member of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee. “I have a hard time accepting it.”
Now, Prince George’s voters account for about 60 percent of the district.
Wynn said there are not many differences between the constituencies in each county, however.
“They share many of the same concerns: federal employee benefits, increase in federal aid to education, economic opportunity and job growth and health care, access to health,” he said. “So there are not real great differences in terms of the big issues between the southern section of my district and the newer section of my district.”
But Dan Willard, a member of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee, said most people in the county feel “that their vote will be irrelevant, and that whatever is going to happen is going to happen in Prince George’s County.”
Even some Democrats said they have heard grumbling. Galen Kreiser, a member of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, said some neighbors have called Wynn a “disappointment” — before adding that most support their congressman.
But former state Sen. John Bambacus, a Republican who served with Wynn in the legislature, said Wynn does not play favorites when it comes to his constituents.
“I served with Congressman Wynn when I was a state senator, and I’m a Republican, and I would not consider him to be partisan with his constituents,” said Bambacus, who is now a political science professor at Frostburg State University. “He is very open-minded and very aware.”
At a recent town hall meeting in Silver Spring, several Montgomery County constituents said they felt similarly.
“I don’t feel we’re neglected,” said Tim Holley, who agreed with Wynn’s assessment that Montgomery and Prince George’s County parts of the 4th District are “similar.”
Even some constituents who disagree with Wynn on issues said he is a good representative.
Len Japngie of Spencerville opposes the Intercounty Connector, a road project that Wynn strongly supports, working this year to secure federal funding for it. But, “I kind of like him personally,” Japngie said.
For now, Wynn is not concerned with the number of campaign donations from his new constituents.
“It’s a new section of the district, and we haven’t done as much fund-raising,” he said. “I don’t think they are complaining.”
And Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at John Hopkins University, agreed that Wynn has no reason to worry.
“The new electoral cycle is just beginning,” he said. “His fund raising for the next campaign . . . will grow.
“He’ll go back to those people — those 48,000 — and I’m sure there are going to be more than those five that are going to be donating,” Crenson said.
-30- CNS 04-16-04