C. Fraser Smith//Special to The Daily Record//April 12, 2012
//Special to The Daily Record
//April 12, 2012
It looked like a walkover.
Everything was teed up for state Sen. Rob Garagiola, an affable, well-spoken candidate. He was to be Maryland’s newest Democratic congressman.
Within lines drawn for the state’s 6th Congressional District by Garagiola’s party benefactors, he would take the seat away from the longtime incumbent, Republican Roscoe G. Bartlett.
A man who had impressed party elders, Garagiola was openly anointed in one of those rituals that are now commonplace not just in Maryland but around the nation. This choosing is often the end of the matter, whatever the voters may think.
It happens during the process known as redistricting, when a state’s congressional districts are balanced by population. The putative Garagiola district was infused with enough Democrats to defeat Bartlett. That was the manipulated arithmetic.
Party elders indirectly obliged their man with an earlier primary election day as well. The new date was set to make Maryland more prominent in the national primary process. Garagiola benefited as well — theoretically. A primary challenger would have less time to introduce himself.
Other things started falling into place. Unions backed him. So did environmentalists.
It was about as done a deal as you can find.
But what about the voters? Would they have anything to do with who would represent them?
Political highway robbery
This form of political highway robbery goes on in broad daylight across the country. No one bothers to deny the obvious. Oh, you think we’re stealing the process, mocking democracy? We’re acting like bosses? Really?
But then came that moment when Garagiola was on his own. Suddenly he had an opponent, a businessman named John Delaney who arrived with an impressive resume. And lots of money.
He also had been a friend of former President Bill Clinton — and Clinton endorsed him.
As the campaign unfolded, Delaney charged that Garagiola had been a lobbyist — no sin on its own, but the senator had not disclosed that aspect of his work life as required. He said the requirement had been confusing. He said he wasn’t sure he was required to make the disclosure. Party elders were of no help here.
Then the influential Washington Post endorsed Delaney, acidly criticizing the redistricting process by which Garagiola’s candidacy was blessed.
That public rebuke looked like a moment in which the whole redistricting process was held up for public scorn — with the potential for payback. Voters and commentators and academics have fumed against the politicization of redistricting, but there was seldom an opportunity to fight back.
The practice has had the effect of increasing polarization in Congress. Parties in power draw lines for their chosen, and lack of competition leads to lack of accountability. Elected officials know they are serving in “safe” seats so they have less fear of defeat.
The voters strike back
But now, in Maryland’s 6th district, there was an opportunity for voters to strike back. There were other issues in this campaign, but surely voter unhappiness with having a congressman shoved down their throats was one of them.
Garagiola was trounced in the Democratic primary. When the voters had a chance to choose their candidate, they rejected the party choice decisively. It was particularly impressive given the Democratic establishment’s involvement.
Delaney now will face Bartlett in the general election. He’ll have many months to finish the introduction he started in the primary.
But there is a final irony. Delaney defeated Garagiola and the Democratic Party poobahs but now he will be the beneficiary of their gerrymandering. The infusion of Democrats intended to put Garagiola in Congress will now be there for him.
C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is [email protected].i