GOP proposes minority district in D.C. suburbs

June 02, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Correspondent

OCEAN CITY -- Maryland's Republicans unveiled a congressional redistricting plan yesterday that would create a minority district in the Washington suburbs and slightly alter the remaining congressional districts.

"We believe it is fair to everyone. . . . It's even fair to Democrats," state GOP Chairwoman Joyce Lyons Terhes said. Mrs. Terhes, who will take the plan to groups throughout the state, said it could change through public discourse. "It is not going to be something done behind closed doors."

The plan's future will probably be dismal at the hands of the Democratic-controlled legislature, which will redraw the lines in time for the March primary next year. Still, it is the first plan in the decennial redistricting effort that specifically calls for a minority district, one that Democrats also are expected to put forth.

The General Assembly is slated to vote on new congressional districts in September or early October. Candidates have until December to file nomination papers.

Under the GOP map, a 68 percent minority district would be created by merging portions of Prince George's and Montgomery counties. The minority breakdown would be 58 percent black, 6 percent Hispanic and 4 percent Asian, Republican officials said.

Black leaders in Prince George's County, noting the surge in minority population in the Washington suburbs and eager for a chance to capture a congressional seat, have been pushing hard for a minority district. At the same time, the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act prohibit any political procedures "which result in denial or abridgment" in the voting power of minorities.

Many political observers, both Democratic and Republican, believe that the increase in Prince George's black population -- from 37.2 percent in 1980 to 50.7 percent in 1990 -- all but requires that a minority district be created under the Voting Rights Act.

While state GOP officials said the plan is one that would provide "good government," it mirrors the politically expedient efforts of Republicans around the country to push for one or more minority districts in a state. By concentrating minorities, who usually support Democratic candidates, in one district, Republicans believe, they gain a better chance of capturing seats in adjoining districts.

Meanwhile, Maryland Democrats, who last week began their redistricting process with the first meeting of a commission appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, are also coming to the realization that a minority district is needed. But they have another goal not shared by Republicans: the electoral protection of Representatives Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, fourth-ranking Democrat in the House and a member of the Appropriations Committee. Mr. Hoyer now represents Prince George's County.

Under the GOP plan, Mr. Hoyer's home of Mitchellville would be included in a reconfigured 4th District, now represented by Democratic Representative Tom McMillen. Still, even if that plan were accepted, a candidate is not required to live in a district where he is a candidate.

Democrats hope to create a minority district similar to the one forged by Republicans. They also hope to create a "safe seat" for Mr. Hoyer, most likely to include portions of Prince George's County and three Southern Maryland counties -- Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's.

Since Maryland will not gain another congressional seat, the Democratic scenario would leave the seven remaining lawmakers vying for six districts.

Speculation is that either Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, or Mr. McMillen would be thrown into a redrawn district to run against Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st.

Many observers believe that in the end it will probably be Mr. McMillen who is cast in with Mr. Gilchrest. The Crofton Democrat does not have the ties to Mr. Schaefer that Mrs. Bentley enjoys, observers say. Also, Mrs. Bentley has threatened to run against Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., next year if she comes up short in redistricting.

Mrs. Terhes said yesterday that under either scenario the state GOP would mount a court fight to try to block the plan. "If it's badly gerrymandered, we will go to court," she declared.

But despite court threats, Republicans are also readying for a Democratic plan that includes a shift by Mr. Hoyer to Southern Maryland. Mark Frazer, chairman of the state GOP's redistricting committee, said yesterday that Republicans are already scouting for Southern Maryland GOP candidates to run against Mr. Hoyer.

"Contingency plans are in effect," said Mr. Frazer, a Calvert County resident who ran unsuccessfully last year for the GOP 1st Congressional District nomination captured by Mr. Gilchrest. think my name would have to be among those considered."

Also, state Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, said yesterday that he is considering taking on Ms. Mikulski next year.

"Right now I'm undecided. I'm considering it seriously," said the 61-year-old Severna Park resident, a member of the Maryland Senate since 1975.

But the senator said he would wait until Mrs. Bentley reached a decision on her plans.

At the same time, Joshua A. Smith, chairman of Maxima Corp., a Montgomery County computer consulting company, said yesterday that he is also considering the race. But he hopes that Republicans will chose one candidate before the primary, a move that would spare money and bypass political infighting in a unified effort to unseat Ms. Mikulski.

Alan Keyes, the 1988 GOP Senate candidate who was defeated by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., is also considering the race.

Two Republican candidates already have filed for the 1992 race: Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly and Stuart Hopkins, a Caroline County consultant on issues related to the handicapped.

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