Redistricting plan's foes mobilize Panel chairman says he voted for rejection

August 24, 1991|By Tom Bowman

The chairman of a gubernatorial advisory committee voted against a controversial congressional redistricting proposal approved this week, saying he doubted that pitting two of the state's three Republicans against each other would survive a court challenge.

Meanwhile, opponents of the plan, Democrat and Republican alike, are readying petitions, testimony and bus convoys for a Sept. 3 Annapolis hearing on the plan, hoping the committee can be convinced to alter the district lines. The boundaries are to be used in the March primary next year and in effect for a decade.

"I voted against it," said Benjamin L. Brown, chairman of the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee, explaining that he had been "upset" about the plan's call to place Representatives Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, and Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, in a district that stretches from the outskirts of HTC Baltimore to the bottom of the Eastern Shore.

"I have some legal reservations about that. I'm sure we're going to be sued on it anyway," said Mr. Brown, a former Baltimore District Court judge and Baltimore city solicitor.

While the committee's other four members and counsel assured him that it would be "very difficult" to win a "gerrymandering case," Mr. Brown thought otherwise. "I don't think it's as difficult now as it was," he said.

The four members who approved the plan were Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, Donna M. Felling and Norman M. Glasgow Sr.

In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court took up an Indiana redistricting case and ruled that intentionally redistricting to the disadvantage of a political party violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

"I think there's some language in that and in the dissent that refers to (putting two members of the same party in one district)," Mr. Brown said.

"I think the plan cries out for judicial scrutiny," said David D. Queen, counsel for Marylanders for Fair Representation, terming the committee's proposal a "flagrant case of gerrymandering." The group, formed by Republican fund-raiser Joshua A. Smith, is expected to mount a federal court challenge to the plan should it win the approval during a special session of the General Assembly on Sept. 25. "It's a shrewd plan if you're trying to murder the opposition," Mr. Queen said.

Mr. Brown said he favored placing Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, in a district with Mr. Gilchrest, a proposal that was advocated by five of Maryland's eight congressmen. "Mr. McMillen in all probability would have a better shot running against Gilchrest than he would if Mrs. Bentley decides to run against him," he said.

Mrs. Bentley has said she may run against either Mr. McMillen or Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, both of whom took portions of her current district.

The Lutherville congresswoman said she does not plan to run in her newly drawn district. "Running from Lutherville down to Crisfield is preposterous," said Mrs. Bentley, who also is considering a race next year against Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski , D-Md.

Mr. Brown said he was not trying to "downgrade the committee," saying its task had been a "difficult job."

"There are some things that can be done to make a better plan," said Mr. Brown, although he declined to be specific. "I'd rather not say at this point."

Still, another committee member and others involved in the redistricting process said that pitting two Republicans against each other was the only way to clear the plan with the Democratic-controlled state legislature. With the backing of both Senate President Miller and House Speaker Mitchell, some political observers expect the plan -- or a slight variation -- will win approval in the legislature.

Opponents of the plan are now focusing their efforts on Annapolis.

In Western Maryland, Republicans and Democrats hope to draft a resolution opposing the newly drawn 6th Legislative District map, which would extend the district to Harford County. That plan is being derisively called the "Mason-Dixon plan," since it skirts just below the famed boundary line.

Susan Saum-Wicklein, chairwoman of the Washington County Republican Central Committee, said the proposal would turn the once-rural district into a "suburb of Baltimore."

"It's not terribly popular," said Rick Hemphill, vice chairman of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee.

In Baltimore County, there is concern about splitting the county into five separate congressional districts. "Horrible plan," snapped an irate GOP state Sen. F. Vernon Boozer.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Bentley and her supporters are organizing a petition drive and buses to descend on the Annapolis hearing. "We're planning for war," she said. Both Mr. Cardin and Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, also plan to push for changes.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer is unhappy with the plan as well, and points out that he can either veto it or submit his own redistricting proposal. "He's going to wait and see what comes out of [the Annapolis hearing]," said a Schaefer spokesman.

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