Howard Republicans gird for county redistricting battle GOP plans to use county executive's veto power to check Democrats.

August 28, 1991|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

Republicans in Howard County are looking to flex their newfound political muscle against the traditional power of Democrats during the process of reshaping councilmanic districts.

When the county last drew the districts in 1986, the county executive had switched from the Democratic Party to the GOP, but all five members of the County Council were Democrats.

Now, there is another Democrat-turned-Republican serving as county executive, but he is flanked politically by two Republicans on the five-member council.

Neither party claims to be looking for a fight, but each asserts it is ready for one.

Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, maintains that the Democratic-led council has authority to redraw district boundary lines. Ecker, however, asserts that he can neutralize that authority.

"I have veto power and I would veto anything I don't like," said Ecker, who is being urged by Republicans to be more partisan than usual during the redistricting battle. "If they present a plan that's feasible, I'll sign it."

Republicans have presented two districting proposals, but Democrats have yet to present a plan.

Redistricting is expected to have the largest impact on the fast-growing district of Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, which would have to lose about 13,000 residents to reach the target population of 37,466 per district. About 5,200 residents would have to be subtracted from Republican Darrel Drown's 2nd District.

Gray's 3rd District would have to gain the most citizens, about 7,900. Democrat Paul Farragut's 4th District would increase by about 6,100, and the 5th District of Republican Charles C. Feaga would gain some 4,300 people.

Democrats have created a stir in the process by voting to hire former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti to work as the council's lawyer for redistricting.

The three Democrats last week drafted legislation they plan to introduce at Monday's legislative session that would allow them to spend up to $25,000 in legal fees for Civiletti, who would be paid $150 an hour, a reduction from his normal $400-an-hour fee.

Feaga, who along with Drown voted against using Civiletti, charges that, although the former attorney general is supposed to work for the council, he will help devise a Democratic plan.

"It's like saying 'we're going to get you to look out for us,' " Feaga said. "They have a majority on council. I don't know why they need somebody to look out for them. I thought they [Democrats] should have presented a plan by now instead of getting outside legal counsel.

"They've been holding their cards for so long and we've been willing to play ours," he said. He said that in addition to Ecker's veto power, Republicans will oppose in court any plan they believe is blatantly partisan.

Gray said Democrats are moving methodically to redistrict council boundaries and he insists he will not propose a partisan map.

"It's always contentious because you're dealing with mano-a-mano -- one party against the other," Gray said. "The Republicans are looking at voting data. We're not doing that."

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