An abrupt breakdown in talks between Gov. William Donald Schaefer and key state lawmakers over their roles in drawing new voting districts appears to have --ed hopes that the General Assembly and governor would begin to mend their battered relationship.
Charging that Schaefer wanted to severely restrict their participation on a panel to redraw the state's congressional and legislative districts, General Assembly leaders yesterday vowed to develop their own plan and submit it before a special session to be called this fall.
The lawmakers rejected Schaefer's offer to give the Senate and the House of Delegates two positions on a seven-member panel to draft the new election districts.
Under the governor's proposal -- delivered to lawmakers Tuesday -- Schaefer would hand-pick the remaining five members, who he said would not currently hold elected offices.
"The governor's proposal was really not a proposal at all," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's. He said the legislature wanted a greater voice on the committee.
Before his plan was rejected by the top legislators, Schaefer reportedly refused to consider a counterproposal to give the General Assembly two additional seats on the panel by expanding its membership to nine, according to a State House source.
On Tuesday Schaefer said he did not want to give lawmakers any more than two seats because he feared they would push for redistricting plans designed only to protect incumbents.
Schaefer's decision outraged some lawmakers and prompted Miller to call it "an expression of the governor's continued unwillingness to recognize that there is a second branch of government."
The impasse caught even some Schaefer aides off guard. They said they had hoped lawmakers and the governor would work together on the crucial redistricting issue and put the bitter battles of the 1991 session behind them.
"That's really sad," said Schaefer aide Pamela J. Kelly, who helped prepare the governor's proposal to lawmakers. "We were hoping we'd be working cooperatively on this."
Federal and state laws require that congressional and state legislative districts be redrawn every decade after each census. In each case, the governor is required to propose a plan, which will become law unless the legislature changes it or adopts a plan of its own.
The state's eight congressional districts must be redrawn first in preparation for the 1992 election. The timing is less critical for General Assembly districts because the next election is in 1994.
Miller said he spoke with House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Eastern Shore, yesterday morning and the two agreed to form their own panel to draft the redistricting plans before submitting them to a joint committee of House and Senate members.
The legislative panel responsible for drafting the plans could include Miller and Mitchell; Sens. John A. Pica and Clarence W. Blount, both Democrats from Baltimore; House Majority Leader D. Bruce Poole, D-Western Maryland; and Del. Nancy K. Kopp, D-Montgomery, according to a State House source. Mitchell could not be reached for comment.
In the meantime, the Schaefer administration will go ahead with its plans to develop redistricting proposals.
As they go their own ways with redistricting efforts, both the Schaefer administration and the legislature will hold public hearings on the issue around the state.
The likelihood of dueling hearings adds another complication to the matter. Schaefer's panel is expected to hold about six public meetings beginning in July. Miller said the legislative plan may go before the voters on 15 different occasions.
"It's going to be very confusing to the public," observed Kelly.