While trying to protect incumbent Democrats, Maryland's congressional district mapmakers may have done just the opposite and given fresh hope to would-be challengers.
"Certainly, it gives us more opportunities. I don't deny that," Maryland Republican Party chairwoman Joyce L. Terhes said yesterday.
Terhes said she is seriously considering running against the man the Democrats tried most to protect, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, who would represent Southern Maryland under the new plan. Terhes is a Calvert County commissioner.
Indeed, the plan submitted Wednesday to the governor prompted angry complaints from some Democratic incumbents. Their reshaped districts take in areas they don't now represent, and bring in voters who they don't know and who in some cases don't share the incumbents' views.
Hoyer, for example, is liberal on social issues, which goes over well in Prince George's County but may give ammunition to a Democratic or Republican opponent in more conservative Calvert, St. Mary's and Charles counties, which he doesn't currently represent.
Terhes believes a fairer plan was possible and vows to challenge the new one in court unless it is modified. A public hearing on the plan is scheduled Sept. 3 in Annapolis.
The General Assembly has final say. Gov. William Donald Schaefer can veto the plan if he doesn't like it, although the legislature can override him.
An advisory committee dominated by Democratic legislative leaders in Annapolis composed the plan. The panel substantially ignored the Republicans' proposal and a plan devised by a group of incumbent congressional Democrats.
The incumbent Democrats' plan would have protected Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd, who is a friend of the governor's and a champion of the Port of Baltimore, while forcing Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, to face Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st.
Instead, the committee allowed McMillen to keep intact most of his Anne Arundel-based district and cast Bentley into Gilchrest's territory. That could yet backfire on the Democrats, for the feisty and popular Bentley said she may run instead next year against Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., or take on McMillen or Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd.
The efforts of the committee also may change the ideological face of the delegation: Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, worries that "progressive" Democrats such as Cardin and Hoyer will have to moderate their views in more conservative districts.
Just about the only Democrat not complaining is McMillen, who with the backing of Maryland Democratic Party chairman Nathan Landow got about the best deal he could. But his colleagues are bitter about it.
"It's Tom's plan. I guess he should be happy," Byron says sarcastically.
Here's a look at how districts shape up for next year, when House members stand for reelection:
Unless whispered rumors are true that Bentley will try to talk Gilchrest into stepping aside to give her a chance for the party's 1st District nomination, the GOP will stick with the freshman congressman from upper Kent County.
Who, then, will Democrats seek to square off against Gilchrest, the man state Democratic Party chief Landow calls "the weakest representative we have in Maryland"?
How about Roland "Fish" Powell, the popular and homespun mayor of Ocean City? It would take more than a hurricane to get Powell off his beloved barrier island, but Democrats like the way he appeals to both rural folk and the big-city interlopers who own much of the resort. And they like what appears to be Powell's strong base for raising a share of the $1 million-plus it would take to unseat an incumbent.
From the upper end of the Eastern Shore, there's Walter Baker, the cagey chairman of the state Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Baker, Shore-born and educated, dislikes restrictions on wetlands development, on gun ownership and on nearly everything else the Eastern Shore is supposed to hold dear.
Baker, whose 13-year term in the Senate is longer than the average span, says he's mulling the prospect of running for higher office.
"I'm always looking around to see what's available," he says.
This is the new mostly minority district based in Prince George's County. With no incumbent, there almost certainly will be a wide-open contest, at least among Democrats, who predominate.
"That is where I think the most action is going to be," says Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, now the only black Maryland congressman. "[State] Sen. Al Wynn and State's Attorney Alex Williams are both up and running now.
"I assume there will probably be a third and maybe a fourth candidate," Mfume says.
If a black is elected, as the mapmakers intend, one-quarter of the eight-person House delegation will be black, which is roughly the percentage of the state population that is minority.