'People's Plan' for Maryland Congressional Districts Makes Some People Angry

August 25, 1991|By C. FRASER SMITH | C. FRASER SMITH,Fraser Smith covers Maryland politics for The Sun.

ANNAPOLIS — In yesterday's Perspective section, an article on redistricting incorrectly stated that former 2nd District Representative Clarence D. Long was deceased.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Annapolis. -- Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. called it a "people's plan."

Almost no one loved it at first glance, so Maryland's new congressional district map was left for the people to embrace.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

No one knew, of course, what the people thought. Polls show voters often can't name their senators or representatives. Asking them to account for election district lines, could be a bit idealistic.

Nevertheless, by the year 2000 when the lines will be drawn yet again, the following political truths may become evident:

People in the Chesapeake Bay community of Crisfield are in a congressional district with the people of Lutherville north of Baltimore.

Harford Countians are to be represented by the same congress person who speaks for Garrett County, at least three hours away beyond the Western Maryland mountains.

Large chunks of Dundalk and Essex are a part of a district that runs from southern Anne Arundel County through Howard County to the Baltimore City line.

The destiny of a once-mighty East Baltimore is now linked to that of diminutive Hebbville (no offense to Hebbville).

These alliances are not unexpected or novel. The current congressional map has its share of anomalous pairings.

Because people do not settle in neat pockets of 598,000 souls, drawing congressional district lines is not easy. Each district must have approximately the same number of voters, based on the 1990 census, to satisfy the democratic ideal of "one person, one vote."

"The people," in other words, had less to say about where the lines were drawn than the federal courts, elected public officials of the state, party bosses and the state's wondrous topography.

Despite the difficulties presented by the aforementioned dictates, an over-cunning manipulation of lines to advantage parties or individuals is always suspect, though usually not illegal. The party in power is usually in charge of the computer and the map-makers and they are fairly forthright in their partisan approach to the job. This power is regarded as a political spoil.

The federal courts complicate the matter, however, by actually ordering manipulation of lines to advantage minority groups -- political affirmative action designed to eradicate generations of line-drawing that cracked, stacked and packed black voters to the advantage of someone other than black voters.

In states with histories of discriminatory line drawing, moreover, the U.S. Department of Justice has gone a step further, suggesting that when possible lines should be manipulated to make it more likely a minority candidate will be elected.

Thus, Maryland's plan this year includes a new minority district to go along with the one in Baltimore. The new district is to be located in Prince George's and Montgomery Counties. And its presence had an impact on many of the other surrounding districts.

If one were beginning anew, lines would be drawn with no elected leader in mind. Usually, the process is carefully focused on preserving relatively safe seats for incumbents of the party in power.

In the very beginning of the Maryland process, Democratic party leaders made it very clear their priority was to protect Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md-5th. "Protect" in this case means the cunning manipulation of district lines. Mr. Hoyer, a star of local and national Democratic politics, was regarded as a powerful representative of Maryland's interests who had attained so much seniority and clout he could not be left wholly vulnerable to the winds of voter sentiment.

At the same time, Gov. William Donald Schaefer made it known early that he wanted to protect his friend and ally, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md-2nd.

The loser early on appeared to be Rep. Tom McMillen, D-Md-4th. His Democratic colleagues in the House seemed willing to see him fly out the political cargo bay. Mr. McMillen and his aides talked bravely of plans in which all would "share the burden" -- apparently meaning voters.

The former National Basketball Association player had a few moves of his own. The plan released last week "saved" him as much he could be saved, giving him most of Anne Arundel County, parts of Howard County and important chunks of Baltimore County.

The dictates of providing a second minority district and of protecting Mr. Hoyer pushed Mr. McMillen into Mrs. Bentley's backyard. Mrs. Bentley, in turn, was pushed into the First District where she might have to run against freshman Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md-1st.

The committee appointed by Governor Schaefer to draw the lines defied him when it came to Mrs. Bentley. Mr. Schaefer had warred for most of the summer with Senator Miller and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., whom he had appointed to the redistricting committee. The redistricting plan now looks to some like retributive slap in the gubernatorial face.

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