Maryland 1st District
Chesapeake Bay is technically not a bay but an estuary. It was the central focus of the most thickly settled of the 13 colonies and today remains a central focus for much of modern Maryland. The first British here were amazed at the Chesapeake’s oysters and terrapin turtles and crabs and rockfish. This was an estuary civilization in colonial days, with every little hamlet tied together by the highways of bays and creeks and inlets off the Chesapeake. The streets and docks of Chestertown, Oxford, St. Michaels and Cambridge still look something like they did when George Washington slept there.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
In post-colonial times, when most Americans were caught up in the romance of westward movement, these estuaries and peninsulas were mostly forgotten, located too far off the main lines of railroads and highways. In the 160 years between 1790 and 1950, the Eastern Shore counties of Maryland only doubled in population, perhaps the slowest growth rate on the Eastern Seaboard. Over the past half-century, much of the Chesapeake has changed beyond recognition, as the Eastern Shore has grown vigorously, with second-home buyers, retirees and commuters across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Now, this is a land of genteel estates fronting the water and of Frank Perdue’s thriving chicken empire around Salisbury, of Easton’s Waterfowl Festival and St. Michaels’s Oysterfest, and of the swarms of motorboats and sailing ships making their way up and down the inlets or under the twin spans of the Bay Bridge. This growth has forced people along the Bay to confront issues that once would have been unimaginable here, such as high-rise condominiums obscuring the sunrise in an old fishing village like Crisfield.
But more threatening is pollution. Agricultural and suburban runoff have vastly depleted marine populations, and only a few watermen still make livings bringing crabs and oysters to shore. Since 1990, the blue-crab harvest has dropped by two-thirds. Various attempts at cleanup by governmental agencies over the years have been helpful but not entirely successful. In early 2009, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation filed a lawsuit seeking to force the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce limits on pollution entering the Bay.
The 1st Congressional District of Maryland includes all nine counties of the Eastern Shore. It extends across the Bay and grabs parts of Harford, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties to strip Republican strongholds from the congressional districts that once contained them. The Baltimore and Harford county suburbs north of Baltimore are as solidly Republican as any part of Maryland. Although it is hard to avoid thinking of this district as the Eastern Shore district, nearly half the votes are cast on the west side of the Bay. This was one of only two districts in the state that twice voted for Republican George W. Bush—and comfortably. In 2008, it was one of two Maryland districts that voted for Republican presidential nominee John McCain, giving him 59%-40% over Democrat Barack Obama.