Leadership of Maryland GOP braces for redistricting battle

February 19, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- The Maryland Republican Party and its General Assembly leadership want to remove politics from the most political of exercises -- the redrawing of congressional and legislative district lines.

And they're ready for a high-cost court battle to have their way. "I'm looking around for a good red-meat litigator," says Joyce L. Terhes, state GOP chairwoman.

The Republicans said they are prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal and computer fees to make certain the Democratic-controlled legislature and the Democratic governor do not draw lines that dilute recent increases in GOP voting strength -- or reduce the possibility of further Republican victories.

Delegate Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-Baltimore County, the House minority leader, said the gauntlet already has been thrown in a gentle way by the Democrats.

"Our colleagues are going out of their way to tell us not to get used to having 25 delegates," she said.

Until the 1990 election, Republicans had 17 delegates. Now, she said, "they're promising to get us down to 10."

The process promises to be intensely competitive -- not only between parties, but among individual officeholders and between the executive and legislative branches. The governor has traditionally used the hammer of redistricting to encourage legislators toward his way of thinking on various pieces of legislation.

The process will begin when Gov. William Donald Schaefer draws a plan for new congressional districts that will be considered by the General Assembly at a special session, probably next September. The new districts must be put in place because the filing deadline for congressional races is in December.

Governor Schaefer will also draw a plan for legislative redistricting that will be presented to the legislature during the 1992 session. The Assembly must approve that plan within 45 days or pass one of its own, which would not require the governor's approval.

The governor's objective will be to draw districts that will contain roughly the same number of voters.

The Republican leaders said yesterday that they expected to be faced with the necessity of taking the governor's or the legislature's new plans to court.

"We'd like to be optimistic. We'd like to hope that there would be enough support for fairness, enough people who wouldn't want outrageously gerrymandered districts," Ms. Terhes said.

To provide what he called a model redistricting approach, Delegate Robert H. Kittleman, R-Howard, introduced what he called the "Reapportionment Process Reform Act."

The bill calls for a reapportionment commission that would not include public officeholders, party officials or any employee of the General Assembly or Congress.

Any meeting of three or more members of the commission would have to be held in public and with advance notice. A record of all communications by the commission with persons outside the commission would be kept in a central file, so that the public could see more clearly what has in the past been a murky, complicated and highly political process dominated by the Democrats.

"This is the right way, the fair way," Delegate Kittleman said. He said he did not expect his bill to pass in a House where Democrats outnumber Republicans, 116 to 25.

In 1980, said Richard P. Taylor, the state GOP's national committeeman, the Democrats drew congressional district lines to increase Democratic voting strength and reduce Republican strength.

In the 4th and 5th Congressional Districts, he said, lines were redrawn to assist Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, and ultimately helped to elect a Democrat.

Ms. Terhes said she believes that Mr. Hoyer's continued survival will be the first objective of the Democratic redistricting teams. Considerations of that kind -- designed to help a given candidate hurt another -- should be removed from the process, she said.

Neither she nor any of the other Republican leaders said they expect to see an acceptable plan.

"We assume we'll have to fight in every part of the state," said Mr. Taylor. As obscure as the process has been in the past, he said, "People are more alert to it than they used to be."

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