Prince George's County government is dominated by the urban interests of the north, according to State Sen. Peter A. Bozick, and he wants the Maryland legislature to slice off the southern half to form an independent John Hanson County.
His John Hanson County bill, introduced four times in one form or another over the past six years, draws smiles from his fellow legislators when he talks about it, but the idea is taken completely seriously by many Southern Prince Georgeans.
John Hanson County already has overcome its first obstacle: the elimination of constitutional requirement that every new political entity has to be larger than 400 square miles and have a population of more than 100,000 "white persons." This provision was changed in 1974, during one of Bozick's earlier attempts to establish John Hanson County, but even that was not easy, he said. It took two years for the legislature to agree to change the "white persons" requirement, according to Bozick.
This year Bozick's bill is limited to setting up a volunteer committee to study the possibility of a creating a county named after Hanson, a president of the Continental Congress of 1781, who died in 1783 in Oxon Hill.
"I want to preserve a way of life," says the Camp Springs senator, who runs a beer distributing business in Charles County. "Southern Prince George's is a place where people spend their Sunday afternoons gathering together with the family. They might drink a lemonade, a beer; talk about hunting, fishing."
At one time, Bozick says, the word "redneck" was often used to describe southern Prince George's residents. But now, he says, the words "sophisticated conservative" most aptly apply.
In addition, he says, Prince George's County is simply too big with its 486 square miles. It requires a toll call to reach one end of the county from the other. Its population of 710,000 is larger than that of seven states.
"I don't think members of the County Council can be sufficiently familiar with every nook and cranny of this county to make responsible land use decisions," said Helen O'Leary, who lives near Oxon Hill in a home called Parkcroft.
Bozick, a native New Yorker who moved to southern Prince George's 25 years ago, says his own political ambitions have nothing to do with his interest in John Hanson County. He just thinks, he says that the county's rural southern end is prey to the kind of zoning "mistakes" that he says led to "hodge-podge sprawl" of apartment, industrial and commercial development in the northern end.
In the past, John Hanson County bills never got out of committee. But this year, Bozick says, he is hopeful about getting the study committee because there is widespread discontent, over planning and zoning decisions affecting the county.
The committee would study the area south of Central Avenue, but Bozick says the Central Avenue line may not ultimately end up being the boundary proposed for John Hanson County. "South of Allentown Road" might be more appropriate, he said. The area to be studied contains about 150,000 residents, he said.
"If I sound like a dreamer, I am," says Bozick, "But what's so frightening about a 16-member study?"
If the study proves that it would be economically impossible to divide the county, then Bozick says, he is likely to abandon his dream.
The only apparent support for Bozick's study comes from other legislators in the two southernmost districts of Prince George's, said Sen. Thomas V (Mike) Miller of Clinton. "We've got the best part of the county -- the green space, the bushes, the trees, the farmland. It's the only spot where you can continue to plan development."
It does not really matter that the existing Prince George's County seat is in Upper Marlboro, in the county's southern half, Bozick and other residents say. They still feel under-represented on the 11-member County Council. Only three of the council members come from the county's southern half.
When Bozick first introduced his bill, opponents charged that it was an antibusing measure. But Bozick said the idea actually originated in the late 1960s as a reaction to the widespread development in the county.