While sorting through the bewildering array of election-time junk mail and TV ads, suburban voters should remember that despite the upcoming elections Maryland will continue to be governed by people who aren't from this part of the state.

Maryland's top officials -- the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and both U.S. senators all come from Baltimore. Consequently, so does the state's agenda.

The Washington suburbs haven't produced a U.S. senator since 1913 or a governor since the Civil War.

Why? Because of "an unfortunate history of jealousy and arrogance," as former congressman Mike Barnes puts it, Montgomery and Prince George's counties have always operated as rivals instead of as a region.

That's why today we have no regional consciousness, no regional agenda and no regional clout. We don't even have a regional name like "Western Maryland" or "Northern Virginia."

"But things are changing," says Barnes. "We're growing together to a degree."

For one thing, Montgomery and Prince George's counties share some common problems, including Metro funding, traffic congestion and a bi-county water and sewerage system, that require the counties to work together.

For another, the economic gap between the two counties is narrowing. Prince George's is now Maryland's fifth richest jurisdiction, with full employment and a burgeoning black population whose income level is almost twice that of Baltimore's black population.

A decade ago, Prince George's politicians sided with Baltimore during statehouse funding frays. "Today," says P.G. County Executive Parris Glendening, "we are much closer to Montgomery County."

And, like Montgomery, Prince George's is being shortchanged in Annapolis.

For example, both counties are trying to bolster education. Prince George's needs $125 million to fund an education program for black males, but Glendening doesn't have the money.

Meanwhile, Montgomery can't honor agreed-upon raises for teachers because of a taxpayers' rebellion.

Yet the State Board of Education approved a new $100 million education aid program that gives Baltimore City $77 million while this region gets nothing.

Whether it's protecting the "flagship" status of the University of Maryland's College Park campus, more state aid for community colleges and Metro, fighting state aid cuts or bringing back big-league baseball, Montgomery and Prince George's have growing, common interests.

They also have a growing population and a growing opportunity to build a potent political coalition.

Just released Census data show that Montgomery County alone accounted for 33 percent of Maryland's population growth during the last decade. Today the bedroom communities ringing Washington from Frederick to Charles County contain half the state's population. It's a vast unnamed region united only by its common loathing of Beltway congestion and a love of the Redskins.

Perhaps we should name our region "Redskinton," after the football team. And perhaps we should look across the Potomac for a lesson in political teamwork.

Twenty years ago the Virginia suburbs got tired of being shortchanged in Richmond. So they formed a bipartisan political caucus and began "to block vote on issues that involved Northern Virginia," remembers Virginia Del. Vincent Callahan. It worked.

They forced a redistribution of highway funds favorable to Northern Virginia, won a regional university campus, more Metro money and increased state aid and autonomy for the region's counties.

Now statewide candidates kowtow to Northern Virginia to get elected. "It used to be they paid homage to Richmond's 'Main Street crowd,' " says Callahan, "but now the power's shifted up here."

Can it happen in Maryland? It must if we aspire to exchange this region's second-class citizenship for a full voice in Maryland's governance. Hail, Redskinton. You're long overdue! -- Blair Lee

is vice president of a Silver Spring development firm and a frequent contributor to this page.