Congressional redistricting likely to produce incumbent contest

April 28, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Maryland's congressional map next year will likely include a minority district in the Washington suburbs and a "safe seat" for Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, that encompasses most of Southern Maryland, according to lawmakers and officials.

With that scenario now gaining wide acceptance, political leaders gearing up for the decennial redrawing of political lines are focusing on its explosive consequence: Two members of the state's congressional delegation will end up in one district.

A new minority district forged from Mr. Hoyer's home base of Prince George's County -- and a portion of Montgomery County -- is becoming almost a legal necessity, Democrats and Republicans agree, noting the sharp rise in the black population and the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act.

At the same time, the state's Democratic majority places a high premium on preserving the title of congressman for Mr. Hoyer, fourth-ranking Democrat in the House and a skilled legislator who keeps Maryland awash in federal funds.

While Mr. Hoyer, who is white, has strong support among his black constituents, some wonder if that will continue as the black population increases. Black leaders, meanwhile, would rather have the politically powerful Mr. Hoyer in a majority-white district.

With a minority district and a separate safe district for Mr. Hoyer, six districts would be left for the seven remaining House members.

The speculation is now that either Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, or Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, would be forced to share a district with Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, and face him in an election.

"I don't like it," snapped Mrs. Bentley, who sees "no reason" for the merging of her Baltimore County area with the Eastern Shore of the 1st District. "I will fight like hell to keep Dundalk and Essex."

Mr. McMillen, whose current district includes a portion of Prince George's, believes his Democratic Party affiliation will -- attempts to couple his predominantly Anne Arundel County district with the Eastern Shore.

"It won't happen," he said. However it works out, Democrats are going to be the priority. [Mrs. Bentley's] a Republican, that's all I can say."

Mr. Gilchrest, a freshman and a Republican from Kent County, said, "Regardless of what happens, I'm going to run for Congress again. . . . If I get configured out . . . I'll go back to teaching school."

Mrs. Bentley and fellow Republicans have begun circulating their own redistricting plan, which would not require any members to double up but which would leave Mr. Hoyer in a majority-black district.

"All of [the congressional districts] would change; none of them would change dramatically," Mrs. Bentley said. "It's a shame to put two incumbents in the same district when you're not losing a seat, and I don't care what party they are."

Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.-7th, the delegation's only black member, said that while the redistricting process should be left to a state commission which is expected to oversee the process, he sees a need to create a minority district and a separate district for Mr. Hoyer.

"I think we can do both," he said. But he left unanswered the question of which two members will end up in a single district.

The future of the eight congressional districts will begin to take shape in late May or early June, when state political leaders begin public hearings. A commission of state legislators and citizens is expected to be named soon.

The state legislature is due to vote at a special session this fall on a new redistricting map that would be used for the state primary next March.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the Democratic-controlled legislature will take the lead in drawing the new political map. The congressional delegation will provide key input.

Most political leaders agree that a minority district is all but a necessity, said officials involved in the redistricting process.

Prince George's County's black population increased to about 50.7 percent in 1990, up from 37 percent 10 years ago. The 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act prohibit any electoral procedure "which results in a denial or abridgment" of the voting power of minorities.

Lawmakers say the percentage and the amendments are propelling political leaders to conclude that a minority district including Prince George's County and portions of Montogomery County is inevitable.

"I think the consensus is certainly there within the Democratic Party that this is something that has to be done," said Sen. Albert R. Wynn, D-

Prince George's, who is considered a likely congressional candidate in such a minority district.

"The preliminary figures would not guarantee [a minority district], but I think it's a growing consensus," said state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, chairman of the Senate's committee on reapportionment and redistricting. "I'm not saying we're definitely going to do that, I would say we're inclined to do that."

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