Despite Howard County's rapid growth in the last decade, it will probably be represented by the same number of legislators when new boundaries are drawn for legislative and congressional districts this fall, say political observers and elected officials.
It also is likelyto continue sharing most of its elected representatives with neighboring counties.
With a population of 187,000, up from 118,000 10 years ago, the county falls about 15,000 short of the population needed to create twoseparate districts that fall within county borders.
As part of the redistricting process, a public hearing is scheduled for tomorrow night at which county residents can give their opinions on the state'splans for creating new legislative and congressional districts.
The hearing is sponsored by the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee and is one of 13 public meetings that will take place throughout the state before the committee makes recommendations to the governor.
The meeting will be at 7 p.m in Smith Theater at Howard Community College.
Currently, the county shares legislative districts with Montgomery, Prince George's and Carroll counties.
"I wouldn't betoo surprised if the districts didn't change all that radically," said Brad Coker, Columbia pollster and president of Mason-Dixon OpinionResearch Inc.
Based on recommendations from the committee, the governor will present his redistricting plan to the General Assembly, which will adopt new districts by February.
The purpose of redistricting is to draw political boundaries to conform to the latest census, which is taken every 10 years. Based on the 1990 census figures, the committee has set a target of 101,733 residents per legislative district. Each will be represented by one senator and three delegates. The district target population in 1980 was 89,712.
Those who followregional politics agree that the county will not end up with two self-contained districts during this round of redistricting.
"Howard County for a long time has been sharing districts, and it would be the ideal thing for our county to respect our geographical lines and work out two districts," said Delegate Virginia Thomas, D-13A, who represents the only district completely within the county.
"We're close in population, but we don't quite have the population for it," Thomas said.
"It takes 202,000 to have two clean senatorial districts that don't go anywhere, and we don't quite deserve two," said Delegate Bob Kittelman, R-14B.
Observers of the redistricting process agree that the most significant boundary changes will occur in legislative districts 13 and 14 because of the large population increases in those areas.
Coker said District 14 will probably lose the portion of Montgomery that includes the Gaithersburg area.
The city of Laurel will remain in District 13, and the area south of Laurel will probably become part of a new district in Prince George's County, Kittelman said.
The Howard portions of the districts will probably remain the same, observers say.
Shared districts mean that Howard officials in districts 13 and 14 will still represent constituents in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
"When you have two counties, you have two of everything," Kittelman said. "Two boards of education, two chambers of commerce -- all those groups want to meet with you."
But the strong ties that develop between shared delegations can be an advantage when one county needs the support of another.
"We all have another base we can call on pretty effectively," Kittelman said.
District 14, which includes Ellicott City, West Columbia Clarksville, West Friendship and a large portion of Montgomery County, isthe largest district in the state, with 172,000 residents.
The district is represented by Sen. Chris McCabe, R-14, and delegates Bob Kittelman and Robert Flanagan, R-14B.
Democratic Sen. Tom Yeager represents District 13, which encompasses Elkridge, Savage, east Columbia and the North Laurel portion of Prince George's County. Republicandelegates Marty Madden and John Morgan represent 13-B, and Virginia Thomas represents 13-A. With a population of 136,000, District 13 is the state's third-largest legislative district.
Observers speculate that District 14 could become a self-contained district in Howard County if new boundary lines are drawn straight down Route 29.
However, this shift is not likely to occur because it would place Yeager in McCabe's district and pit two incumbents against each other in an election.
"I don't think Tom Yeager can win that election," Coker said. "He'd be running in a precinct he hasn't run in since 1978, anda lot of the area has changed since then."
In addition, Senate President Mike Miller, a Democrat who is on the governor's redistricting committee, doesn't want to lose a senator in his Prince George's County delegation, say those involved in local politics.
"Tom Yeagerhas been a very faithful, strong supporter of the president, and he would do everything he can to keep him in his county's delegation," said Kittelman.
As a result, District 14 will probably retain a portion of Montgomery County, though that portion will be smaller, and asegment of Prince George's County will remain in District 13 when the redistricting process is complete.
"I don't think either incumbent wants to end up in a district with the other," Coker said. "When you get down to it, I think the state senate lines are going to fall where the senate president wants them to, to keep his incumbents happy."
POPULATION GROWTH IN HOWARD COUNTY LEGISLATIVE DISTRICTS
District.. .. ..1980.. .. ..1990
Senate 14.. ..94,035.. ..171,891
14B.. .. .. ..63,175.. ..110,174
Senate 13.. ..91,912.. ..136,593
13A.. .. .. ..31,261.. .. 43,159
Senate 4.. .. 92,909.. ..115,804
4B.. .. .. .. 28,318.. .. 37,924