MECHANICSVILLE, Md. — The following letter comes from Josh Guy of Mechanicsville, Maryland.
“There has been a great debate in St. Mary’s County, over the past two years, involving Delegate Brian Crosby’s (D-St. Mary’s) bill to change the way the citizens of St. Mary’s vote for their commissioners. The proposal would change the county commissioner form of government from at-large voting to in-district voting.
For example, the fourth district commissioner would have to win only the votes within the fourth commissioner district. I have studied this issue with great interest and without preconceived judgments or notions. I originally thought what was the big deal? It made sense that the commissioner from the fourth district should be elected from their district and not Mechanicsville or Leonardtown.
However, after looking at the facts and the debate surrounding in-district voting, I have come to oppose it, and here’s why.
First on the list of the proponent’s arguments for in-district voting is the
current system disenfranchises voters. I do not doubt the sincerity of those who hold that viewpoint, however, the data from past commissioner elections does not back up that claim. The local Democratic Central Committee has endorsed in-district voting, which causes us to look at the history of politics here in the county. St. Mary’s County was dominated by the Democratic party for over 100 years; only four commissioners were elected as Republicans between 1942-1990.
In fact, it wasn’t until 2014 that the Democrats lost every elected position in St. Mary’s County. In addition, if we look at the district with the greatest chance of a democratic flip, the fourth commissioner district, we’ll see the Republican has still won the district in the last two contested elections.
Todd Morgan, a Republican, won the fourth district over Mary Washington, Democrat, in 2010. In 2022 Scott Ostrow, also a Republican, beat Steve Tuttle in the fourth district, albeit with a smaller lead. In 1986 and 1990 St. Mary’s voters elected John G. Lancaster as county commissioner representing the fourth commissioner district.
Lancaster would serve as the first black commissioner. In 1986 and 1990 he lost the fourth commissioner district to Frances Eagan, Republican, but was able to carry Mechanicsville, Leonardtown, Hollywood, and Piney Point and won both elections. I find the argument that at large voting here in the county has in any way affected or changed the prospects of any commissioner race weak if one is looking at our election history and voter data.
The next piece of the argument is that in-district voting would make the
elected commissioner from that district more responsive to that district’s needs. Perhaps it would, but the issue of four commissioners not held accountable to the entire county is a problem with no real solution. For example, why would the commissioner elected only from the Leonardtown-Hollywood area care about zoning or crime in the fourth district’s Lexington Park or Great Mills area.
The proponents of in-district voting believe that each commissioner would recognize the importance of having equal resource allocation to each district’s needs, but sadly that is not the reality. To believe that all elected commissioners under the in-district proposal would be responsive to issues facing the entire county is to believe that most politicians are not worried about their re-election chances.
On the contrary, the in-district commissioner would have to fight tooth and nail with only one single vote to make sure their district needs are met. Under the current system, each commissioner must run county-wide to be held accountable to the citizens county-wide. If a commissioner knows they must campaign in Lexington Park, even though they will be the Leonardtown-Hollywood area commissioner, they will pay closer attention to issues affecting the area.
Lastly, my strongest issue is with the way the bill has been proposed. In 1972 and 1989 the county had a referendum on whether we should change from a commissioner form of government to a charter form of government. Both times the charter was defeated. The county also rejected code home rule in 2016. Politics has sadly poisoned the debate over this bill, instead of an honest debate on the merits and drawbacks of the proposal.
Some on the local Democratic Central Committee have come out in support of the bill and when arguing that in-district voting increases accountability, they point out that a Democrat should have a seat at the commissioner’s table.
Any changes to the way our county government operates should not be decided by Montgomery County or Baltimore County legislators but by all of the citizens here in St. Mary’s.
Ultimately shouldn’t we have a say of what our county government looks like? Why do those who push this bill not want the citizens to vote on it? It makes little sense to have a group of Delegates or Senators who are not accountable to the voters here ultimately decide the fate on which St. Mary’s County’s government should operate.
I support the voters of St. Mary’s deciding whether in-district voting is worth pursuing through referendum, but I do not support efforts of those at the state level to force a change.”