IT’S EASY to lampoon the dreamers in Maryland’s five western counties and their loose talk of secession — a divorce that would create a pencil-necked nano-state that would be poorer, more rural, less educated and much whiter than the Free State as currently constituted.
It would also be considerably more Republican, which is unsurprising, given that Maryland as a whole — and here is part of the rub — has become by some measures the most Democrat-dominated state in the union.
Owing fealty to the one-party juggernaut that bestrides Annapolis, the Republicans of Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick and Carroll counties can hardly be blamed for dreaming of some semblance of clout in the halls of government. Hence the secessionist reverie.
If there is blame to be apportioned for the miserable party imbalance, Democrats and Republicans share it in roughly equal measure. Led by Gov. Martin O’Malley, Democrats gerrymandered the state’s congressional districts after the 2010 Census, setting the stage for the defeat last year of the Republican incumbent, Roscoe G. Bartlett, who had represented western Maryland for 20 years. Of the state’s eight congressional districts, Republicans now control just one, on the Eastern Shore, mostly separated from the rest of the state by the Chesapeake Bay.
In the General Assembly in Annapolis, Republicans are scantly represented, the result being a slew of liberal legislation — successive tax increases, legalized gay marriage, the abolition of the death penalty, tuition subsidies for undocumented immigrants, tough anti-gun laws, medical marijuana — anathema to the GOP.
Of course, Republicans themselves are partly responsible for the state’s heavy Democratic tilt. The only Republican governor in a generation, Robert L. Ehrlich, whose single term in office was marred by low-grade scandals, ran lackluster back-to-back campaigns against Mr. O’Malley in 2006 and 2010. His lieutenant governor, Michael S. Steele, was an undistinguished public servant; he was deservedly clobbered when he ran for the Senate in 2006.
In the jockeying ahead of next year’s gubernatorial race, there is no incumbent — Mr. O’Malley is term-limited — but Republicans barely figure in the conversation. So far, they have not produced a viable, centrist leader who could plausibly appeal to a solidly blue electorate.
Secession is a pipe dream in western Maryland, as it has been from time to time in Northern Virginia, which — unlike the rebel precincts around Frederick and Cumberland — would make a rich, economically dynamic and highly diverse statelet. It has likewise been a pipe dream in parts of the country, and of the world (the Veneto in Italy; the Flemish-speaking parts of Belgium), that feel ill-served by having been awkwardly joined with compatriots who seem otherworldly.
In western Maryland, at least, there is a mechanism short of secession through which the alienated may seek access over time to the mainstream and to power, though the path may be long, uncharted and uncertain. It’s called elections.