Northern Montgomery County, also known as the UpCounty, has had far too little representation in local government for far too long. Despite comprising approximately one third of the county’s total population and outpacing the growth of the county as a whole, only two of the nine current members of the County Council reside north of Rockville and since 1990, not one at-large member has come from north of Gaithersburg.
Yet the overwhelming majority of population growth since I moved here as a toddler more than two decades ago has been in the UpCounty. The population of Germantown (my home town) alone has gone from approximately 66,000 when I arrived to nearly 100,000 today. This region is one of the most heavily working- and middle-class and most rapidly diversifying areas in the county. What’s more, we have a distinct regional culture rooted in our agricultural heritage and large migrant communities that influences our political perspectives in ways different from our down county counterparts.
The consequences of this underrepresentation are both numerous and obvious to those who live here. From events that have no attendees to residents who don’t know who to contact for help with the myriad of county services, the consequences of politicians who don’t regularly walk the streets they govern are clear.
That’s why this November, residents should vote FOR Ballot Question C and AGAINST Ballot Question D.
Ballot Question D was brought by petition to the council by some UpCounty residents to abolish the at-large seats on the County Council and replace them with four districts for a total of nine single-member districts. Ballot Question C, which would add two new districts while retaining the At-Large members, was introduced by Councilmember Evan Glass (D-At Large) to fulfill a campaign promise from 2018.
Though Question D is tempting a first glance and those who run their campaign suggest that it is the only proposal to truly address the problem of underrepresentation, the proposal is actually entirely counter-productive and would serve to reduce both individual and collective representation for the UpCounty.
Right now, every Montgomery Countian has five councilmembers that they can reach out to about policy proposals and local government services. You need help with your family’s food insecurity? You want to urge the council to increase pay for teachers? You want to voice a concern with a development project? If one doesn’t get back to you, another certainly will. Under a more parochial system, you would have only a single local legislator to approach with these kinds of issues. If they are unresponsive or disagree with your opinion, that’s it. You’re out of luck. Moreover, if you want to maximize the power of your ballot, it’s obvious that having a say on five out of nine (or eleven) of your elected officials is better than one out of nine (or eleven). It is for these reasons that at-large members are good for individual representation.
Ballot Question C captures the best of both worlds: We retain the at-large members while increasing the number of districts by two to increase representation for all.
But it’s just as important to recognize that replacing the current mixed composition of the council with exclusively single member districts also doesn’t necessarily help the collective representation of the UpCounty either. Ballot Question D is rooted in the premise that if there were nine districts instead of five, there would be more members from the UpCounty, but in fact there is no reason to believe that will be the case.
Currently the UpCounty sits within 3 districts, one of which spans the entire north-south span of the county (which is why its member lives down county). After the 2020 census, those districts will be redrawn to create five (or seven or nine, as it may be) new districts of approximately equal population size. Despite the UpCounty’s growth, it still does not constitute a majority of the county’s population – the down county is simply denser. As a result, there are no circumstances under which we would have the same number of Councilmembers as our southern counterparts. There is no telling where the additional two or four districts will go. They could all go down county or every district could be drawn to straddle the line so that members from those districts could live down county and represent small portions of the UpCounty.
That, of course, is a worst-case scenario. But it illustrates an important point: Anyone who promises that one part of the county or another will get additional seats from adding districts either completely misunderstands how the redistricting process works or is lying to you.
By retaining at large members, we retain the ability to increase the number of Councilmembers from our region beyond whatever the redistricting committee gives us in 2021.
So, why C?
Ballot Question C captures the best of both worlds: We retain the at-large members while increasing the number of districts by two to increase representation for all. The cost, another complaint frequently cited by the proponents of Ballot Question D, would constitute less than .01% of Montgomery County’s annual budget and is well worth the cost. Our county has grown by 50% since the last time the council increased its membership, and our government should reflect that. Expanding the council is, on principle, a good idea for our democracy.
But, let’s be real, Ballot Question C won’t solve our problems in the UpCounty, organizing will. That’s why I worked with a diverse array of local activists to revive the Germantown Democratic Club: To improve the connections between elected officials and the communities they represent, to turn out the vote near our homes, and to ensure that we have a platform to speak out on behalf of regional concerns. If you want more UpCounty representation, I invite you to join us.
But not only us: go to meetings of the UpCounty Citizens Advisory Board, your homeowners’ association, and planning board town halls in our area. Push for real solutions like expanding the council, exploring incorporation of large municipal areas, greater recruitment of UpCounty candidates, and better council outreach. Remember that democracy isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. Democracy is everything you and I do to build a better community for our kids and grandkids. Yes voting, but also protesting, calling your local and national representatives, unionizing your workplace, running for office, and testifying on issues you care about.
Ultimately, it’s up to all of us in the UpCounty to take our destiny into our own hands. Voting for Ballot Question D and replacing our highly representative mixture of at-large seats and single member districts with exclusively single member districts will not increase our representation on the Council, voting for Ballot Question C and becoming more involved will.
As someone who has lived in Germantown since he could walk, I want more representation for my home, that’s why I urge you to vote FOR Ballot Question C and AGAINST Ballot Question D. Thank you.
Andrew Saundry is a Germantown-based activist, organizer, actor, and teaching artist. He is President of the Germantown Democratic Club. You can find Andrew on Twitter @AndrewSaundry. The Germantown Democratic Club is also on Twitter @GermantownDems.
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