Md. congressional redistricting plan sets off bipartisan furor

August 22, 1991|By Tom Bowman and C. Fraser Smith

An advisory committee to the governor set off a bipartisan furor yesterday by unveiling a congressional redistricting plan that would put two Republicans in a re-election race from the Baltimore suburbs to the lowest reaches of the Eastern Shore.

If the legislature goes along, Representatives Helen Delich Bentley and Wayne T. Gilchrest will square off in the proposed 1st District extending from Mrs. Bentley's Lutherville home in Baltimore County to Crisfield in Somerset County.

"It's not a Democratic Party plan or a Republican Party plan. We like to think of it as a people's plan," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, who served on the five-member committee that completed the once-a-decade plan after traversing the state with 14 public hearings.

The committee also proposed a majority-black district in the Washington suburbs and a new, personalized district for Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, that would stretch from Howard County to the three Southern Maryland counties. Mr. Hoyer is the fourth-ranking House Democrat and widely viewed as the delegation's most valuable player

But other parts of the map drew the ire of Democrats and Republicans alike, specifically the proposed 1st District and the planned 6th District that would reach from Garrett County in Western Maryland to Harford County.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer is "very displeased" with the plan and hopes the public will urge changes, a spokesman said, noting the proposed districts combine areas where "their needs are different and their problems are different."

A dejected Mrs. Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, said the plan "stinks" and leftopen a challenge to Representatives Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, and Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, both of whom would take portions of her current district under the plan. And she again alluded to a possible Senate run next year against Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.

"I can run anywhere and I just might do it," said Mrs. Bentley, who vowed to file a lawsuit over the political "gerrymandering" and to press changes in the proposal with members of the General Assembly.

"I'm obviously very disappointed," said Mr. Cardin, pointing to his loss of Howard County and what he termed the large shifts in populations to create other districts. Other delegation members will meet and decide whether to oppose the plan, he said.

"I don't know how anyone could come up with a plan more disruptive," said Representative Beverly B. Byron, D-Md.-6th. The proposed 6th District -- which takes up nearly the entire top half of the state -- would be difficult for travel and to represent, she said.

Maryland Republican Party Chairman Joyce L. Terhes blasted the committee, which held its final deliberations behind closed doors to avoid the glare of the media and lawmaker lobbying. "No wonder they did it in private. They didn't have the courage to do it in public," she said.

But Senator Miller termed it a "fantastic plan" that listened to thewishes of voters, many of whom urged the committee during public hearings to keep intact the Eastern Shore, Southern Maryland and Western Maryland.

Mr. Miller said a particular challenge for the committee was posed by the need to create a separate black-majority district, required under the federal Voting Rights Act. Since the 1990 census figures would not give the state another congressional seat, the creation of that district sent "shock waves" by requiring shifts in other areas, Mr. Miller explained. "No incumbent congressman is going to be very happy with this plan," he said.

Under the proposal, Mr. Cardin would lose portions of Howard County and pick up more of Baltimore County while retaining his city area. Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.-7th, would pick up more of Baltimore County and his minority population would increase slightly from 70 percent to about 72 percent. The congressman said his district appeared little affected by the proposal, although he was concerned with the "shuffling" elsewhere in the state.

Mr. McMillen would keep most of Anne Arundel County and pick up most of Howard County and portions of Essex and Dundalk in Baltimore County. "I think it's something fairly close to what we thought was decent," said Jerry Grant, an aide to the congressman.

Mr. Hoyer could not be reached and Mr. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, said through a spokesman that he was still studying the congressional plan.

Last month five members of the delegation -- Representatives Byron, Cardin, Hoyer, Mfume and Bentley -- appeared before the committee and advocated a plan that appeared to put Mr. McMillen in a district with Mr. Gilchrest.

But Mr. McMillen and the state Democratic Party backed similarproposals that would combine the districts of Mrs. Bentley and Mr. Gilchrest, while protecting the Democratic incumbents.

In the end, the committee adopted a variation of that strategy. One committee member noted that selling Democrat McMillen down the river would find little support in the Democrat-controlled legislature.

Four members of the advisory committee backed the proposed districts: Mr. Miller, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., Norman M. Glasgow Sr. and Donna M. Felling.

One member said there was "no clear vote" from committee Chairman Benjamin L. Brown, who was said to be concerned about the plan's effect on Mrs. Bentley, a close ally of Governor Schaefer. Mr. Brown failed to return several phone calls.

Have your say

The Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee has set up a toll-free line (800) 688-7494 for those who want to call or sign up for the public hearing Sept. 3 in Annapolis.

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