Party Chairman Nathan Landow and...


August 28, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

MARYLAND DEMOCRATIC Party Chairman Nathan Landow and Executive Director Thomas Cowley came by to explain to editorial writers the new congressional redistricting plan. I asked, "What was the philosophical rationale underlying your plan?"

"Philosophically speaking," Landow replied, "we want to stick it up the Republicans' kazoo! We want to elect as many Democrats to Congress as possible!" Cowley added: "Yeah! And if the Republicans think this is bad, wait'll they see what we do to 'em when we redraw the state legislative districts!"

Landow and Cowley laughed maniacally, "Hahahahahaha! There won't be a Republican left in the General Assembly! Hahahahaha!"

* * * Okay, okay -- none of the above dialog is true. I made it all up. Every syllable. That is what Landow and Cowley, as fighting partisans, should have said, but all they did say was that they just wanted to draw new congressional districts that were as fair as possible to as many incumbents as possible, especially the Democrats.

If so, this is definitely not politics as usual. Nearly 100 years ago the immortal Mr. Dooley said, "Politics ain't beanbag. Tis a man's game, and women, children and prohibitionists'd do well to keep out of it." These days it's called "hardball."

Where Democrats are in a majority, they are expected to shaft Republicans, and vice versa. Some would even say they're obligated to. There are 1,316,401 registered Democrats in Maryland; there are only 609,241 Republicans. In a democracy, that means the 1,316,401 get to make the rules and gather the spoils.

It does not mean the Republicans are entitled to 31.65 percent of the political pie, either. Chairman Landow knows this. He is a leading crusader at the Democratic National Committee level against such "proportional representation."

Some Democrats say you have to be fair to Republicans, because it's the law of the land. It is now, but it may not stay that way.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that one party could not gerrymander another party out of its fair share of political offices. But consider this: Justice Sandra O'Connor for herself and Chief Justice William Rehnquist dissented, saying, "Nothing in our precedents compels us to take this step, and there is every reason not to do so. I would hold that the partisan gerrymandering claims of major political parties raise a nonjusticiable political question that the judiciary should leave to the legislative branch as the Framers of the Constitution unquestionably intended."

Since then, Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter have joined the court. Whenever O'Connor and Rehnquist have voted together, those three have almost always voted with them. And Clarence Thomas is on the way.

It is possible, perhaps likely, that no matter what Maryland Democrats did to Maryland Republicans, the Supreme Court would let it stand.

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