Redistricting plan draws ire of 2 top politicians Proposal causes concern among incumbents

August 22, 1991|By William Thompson and John Fairhall | William Thompson and John Fairhall,Evening Sun Staff

A plan to redraw Maryland's eight congressional districts has elicited the same response from the state's highest ranking Democrat and Republican: Neither likes it one bit.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, whose own five-member Redistricting Advisory Committee designed the plan, is described as "very unhappy." And Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, the scrappy 2nd District Republican who has built a formidable reputation bashing liberals and imported radios, says she feels betrayed.

The plan, which was unveiled unceremoniously in Baltimore and Annapolis yesterday, sent shock waves through several congressional districts and left some incumbents worried that their political stock would plunge should the Maryland legislature approve the proposed new district maps at its Sept. 25 special session.

Federal law requires states to redraw their congressional districts every 10 years by using the latest census figures. The exercise -- nearly always controversial -- is intended to ensure that all members of Congress represents the same numbers of citizens.

While boundary lines in all of Maryland's eight House districts would be changed under the Schaefer panel's proposal, the focus of most political chatter yesterday was what the plan would do to Bentley's blue-collar, port-reliant turf east of Baltimore.

By closing the geographical gaps between the existing 1st, 3rd and 4th Districts so that the current 2nd District was eliminated, the plan would splinter Bentley's base of support.

The plan-makers in a sense got rid of Bentley's district and sliced up Baltimore County five ways to create a majority black district in suburban Washington while still saving a piece of Southern Maryland for the state Democrats' strongest congressman, Steny Hoyer.

"Baltimore County is going to be cut up badly, so there's a question as to whether we have one or five people representing the county, and I don't think that Baltimore County deserves that," Bentley said.

Similar sentiments, directed through one of the governor's press aides, came from Schaefer, a long-time friend and supporter of Bentley's despite their different party affiliations.

"He's very unhappy," Ray Feldmann said. "He feels the proposed districts do great damage to the state, that they basically put areas together that were never meant to be together." Feldmann said the governor was talking specifically about what the plan would do to Bentley's southeastern Baltimore County base.

Feldmann said the governor hopes "a great deal" of public sentiment opposing the plan will be presented at a public hearing on the matter scheduled for Sept. 3 in Annapolis. The governor can veto any redistricting plan passed by the General Assembly, but the legislature can override a veto by a two-thirds majority vote.

The plan would give Bentley, a former docks reporter who was first elected to Congress in 1984, more tough choices about what to do politically than it would present to any other member of Maryland's congressional delegation.

She could run against fellow Republican Wayne Gilchrest, a freshman representative from the 1st District. Under the proposed plan, the mostly Eastern Shore district would lose its ,, three Southern Maryland counties and be drawn through Harford County into Baltimore County.

She could run against Democrat Rep. Ben Cardin, D-3rd, whose mainly white-collar Baltimore County district is stretched into Dundalk.

She could run against another Democrat, Rep. Tom McMillen, whose Anne Arundel County based is nudged up into Essex and part of Dundalk.

Or she could ignore the congressional races altogether and, as she has threatened to do for months, square off against Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a liberal Democrat.

Asked yesterday who might be her next opponent, she snapped: "Could be McMillen, Cardin or Mikulski." Fellow Republican Gilchrest, she said, is not likely to be her target.

Bentley described the panel's plan as a Democratic device designed to redistrict Republicans out of office.

"This shows what happens when there's one party controlling the state," she said. "And I think we will be launching very quickly a change of registration drive in the state because I really don't think that a lot of those deep-thinking Democrats like this either."

At least one member of the Schaefer redistricting panel -- which consists of four Democrats and one Republican -- said the plan is non-partisan.

"It's a people plan," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's. "I don't know that anyone could have done any better. Even from an aesthetic point of view it looks right. It's obvious there was no gerrymandering."

Under the proposal, Cardin would keep his base of support in Baltimore County but significant changes would be made in the more outlying areas. It is a prospect that left him less than enthusiastic yesterday.

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