Officials Divided On Unifying County

Redistricting Debate Pits Ruralvs. Urban

June 30, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

Would Harford be better served by one or two people in the House of Representatives?

County politicians were divided in their recommendations on that issue as they testified Thursday before a five-membergubernatorial committee that will redraw legislative districts this fall. The congressional and state redistricting plan is expected to take effect Feb. 21, 1992.

A separate County Council-appointed committee is examining councilmanic districts.

The dividing line for the 1st and 2nd congressional districts splits Harford down the middle; voters in the eastern half of Harford are represented by Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st, while voters in the western half have Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, in Congress.

Ideas for how Harford should figure in congressional redistricting boil down to three alternatives, according to Harford politicianstestifying at the hearing:

* shift Harford into the 1st District with Cecil County and the Eastern Shore because so much of Harford isrural.

* shift Harford into the 2nd District because of its swifturbanization.

* leave the county split between the two districts.

In 1990, the 1st Congressional District had 650,644 residents; The 2nd District had 575,323 residents.

Delegate Mary Louise Preis, D-District 34, speaking for the majority of the Harford General Assembly delegation, proposed including Harford in the 1st District.

"It's more realistic for us to be with the Eastern Shore because four-fifths of Harford County's geography is rural," said Preis. However, Delegate James M. Harkins, R-District 35A, endorsed a plan proposed bythe state Republican party, saying Harford has become so urbanized that it should become part of the 2nd District. "But we all agree Harford County has to be in one or the other," Harkins told the gubernatorial committee.

Bentley lobbied for the congressional district lines to remain roughly where they are.

Bentley said, "I think you should keep communities with similar needs and concerns together. But if this committee and representatives of the General Assembly decide Cecil should be included in the 2nd District, Cecil County residents can be assured I will work as hard for them. But I do believe Cecil should remain with the shore and that the 1st District should remain the same."

Gilchrest did not attend the meeting.

Michael Davall, chairman of the county's Republican Central Committee, also urged thecommittee to leave Harford's congressional district lines unchanged -- but not for geographic or political reasons.

"Aberdeen Proving Ground is a major employer and by maintaining the two districts, we double the congressional support for APG, especially during budget-cutting exercises," Davall said.

Jack Feldman, a Bel Air resident whowas one of four citizens to testify, urged the five-member committeeto remember the handicapped population when redrawing district lines. "Nobody has talked about the handicapped. . . . I think it would begood for handicapped people to have one person to contact in Congress."

Redistricting is mandated by the state constitution and is based on demographic shifts as determined by the 1990 U.S. Census. Maryland's constitution requires that all electoral districts be about thesame size in population.

Thursday's hearing was the fifth of 13 being to be conducted around the state by the Governor's RedistrictingAdvisory Committee, and it was the only hearing to be held in Harford.

Written testimony is being accepted along with suggested redistricting maps; they can be sent to the Maryland Office of Planning, Room 1101, 301 West Preston Street, Baltimore, Md., 21201-2365.

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