Assembly leaders, Schaefer spar over redistricting panel

May 08, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith

The battle over how to draw new election district lines in Maryland began yesterday with a testy exchange between Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the General Assembly leadership over the size and makeup of a special redistricting advisory committee.

Legislators said they want more representation on the panel, a voice in naming its members -- and protection against a governor who might use the line-drawing process as a way of punishing his legislative foes.

In a letter to Assembly leaders released yesterday, Mr. Schaefer said redistricting is an opportunity to create public trust in representative government. But in remarks to reporters later in the day, he said he expects legislators will be "out to protect their own interests. . . ."

Asked if his plans for the committee are negotiable, the governor said, "Nothing is set in concrete -- except the legislature."

Pamela J. Kelly, an aide to the governor, said the two sides are continuing to negotiate.

Mr. Schaefer is thinking of a seven-member committee that would include one senator and one delegate chosen by the speaker and president, she said. The governor intends to appoint at least one Republican to the committee. The committee also will include at least one black member and will be balanced geographically, she said.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, said a nine-member committee with four legislators might be acceptable to the General Assembly. He, too, said he thinks a compromise is possible.

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, was less confident. "If it appears that the legislature is not going to get a fair deal and the deck is stacked . . . then I'm prepared, along with the speaker, to say the legislature will go its own way. . . . The legislature will not and cannot back down," he said.

Late yesterday, Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, Mr. Miller's representative on redistricting, met with Mr. Schaefer and said he believed that the governor would accept a nine-member commission with four legislative members.

Yesterday's written exchanges began about a month ago, after a legislative session in which many of Mr. Schaefer's major legislative initiatives were defeated. Mr. Miller and Mr. Mitchell asked the governor in a letter to join them in the redistricting effort.

Mr. Miller said the legislature wanted to work with the governor. But he said he feared that Mr. Schaefer would draw new district lines to punish incumbents "who do their best to represent the wishes of their constituents and not the wishes of the executive." This could be done, he said, by drawing lines that separated a representative from the bulk of those voters he has represented for years.

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