Gilchrest Vows To Work With Successor

BERLIN – With a vast district to represent from Smith Island to Ocean City and from Severna Park to Bel Air, newly elected U.S. Congressman Frank Kratovil has his work cut out for him as he tries to please and appease his diverse constituency, but he will likely be taking lessons from his predecessor who handled the task with aplomb for 18 years.

Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, who has represented Maryland’s First Congressional District since 1990, knows a little something about managing the vast district that encompasses the nine counties on the Eastern Shore as well as significant parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties on the western shore. This week, the lame duck Republican was in a decidedly insightful mood as he reflected on the task ahead of his successor.

“Put it this way,” he said. “It was not so difficult for myself, but I think it was more difficult for many of my constituents to view their congressman as the same guy who represents other people hundreds of miles away, people with uniquely different needs or interests.”

When the dust settled after Kratovil’s tenuous victory over Republican Andy Harris this week, it certainly appeared geography, and not partisan politics or ideology, settled the issue. Kratovil, the Queen Anne’s County prosecutor, easily carried the nine counties on the Eastern Shore, while Harris scored big in his home areas of the district on the western shore.

In Worcester, Kratovil collected 53 percent of the votes cast in the county, while Harris won 45 percent. The difference was even more pronounced in other areas of Eastern Shore with a 60-40 split in some counties. In his home county of Queen Anne’s, Kratovil garnered 86 percent of the vote.

There are eight congressional districts in Maryland, each made up of roughly 660,000 residents. Because of the vast, rural nature of much of the Eastern Shore, the first district is the largest by far in terms of geography.

While the population on the shore has clearly grown since the last Census in 2000, Gilchrest said it doesn’t appear the numbers will have changed when the Census is done in 2010 to the point the Eastern Shore could get its own congressional district when the lines are redrawn.

“The magic number continues to be around 660,000, and we’re not there yet,” he said. “It won’t happen in 2010, and I’m not sure the people on the shore hope it ever gets there. You have to be careful what you wish for. For the shore to reach a population figure that warrants its own district, you would likely see sprawl from one end of the Eastern Shore to the other. The sprawl would run right across that bay bridge and you wouldn’t necessarily notice the difference between one part of the state and the other.”

In the months leading up to the election, there were grumblings in local community about losing a staunch advocate on fisheries in Congress in Gilchrest, who serves on the House Natural Resources Committee and chairs the subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans. Although it remains to be seen what committees Kratovil will be appointed to, Gilchrest said this week he expects the freshman to follow in his footsteps.

“You get to pick the committees you want to be on,” he said. “Frank and I talk often, and will continue to talk, and he has expressed an interest in getting on those committees.”

For his part, Gilchrest said he would remain active in fisheries issues despite leaving office. He has been named to the Obama administration’s transition team on fisheries issues.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I would never want to be a lobbyist, but I will continue to work on these issues.”