State redistricting debate is about to heat up Many are unhappy over the plan's significant changes.

August 30, 1991|By John Fairhall and William Thompson | John Fairhall and William Thompson,Evening Sun Staff Reporters Larry Carson, Bruce Reid, Norris West and Monica Norton contributed to this story.

Once a powerful state legislator, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin now is a supplicant before his old minions, asking them to alter a plan that would drastically change the congressional districts -- and representatives -- that many Marylanders have grown accustomed to.

Legislative leaders, who helped write the redistricting plan as members of a state panel, aren't keen to change it. They believe they're close to having the votes needed to get the plan through the General Assembly.

But Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., say they'll consider changes -- within limits.

Just how far legislative leaders will bend remains to be seen. The other wild card is Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who is unhappy with the plan and is quietly lobbying for a new one. Schaefer hasn't said whether he'll veto the current plan if it's approved by the legislature at a special session Sept. 25.

The proposed plan has triggered a furious response from some areas, especially Baltimore County, which was sliced and diced into five districts to make the map work.

And the plan has sparked public wrangling among usually collegial Democratic members of the state congressional delegation, who are at odds over how to chart district boundaries.

Critics vow to show up in force Tuesday at a public hearing on the plan in Annapolis. But, rather than wait, politicians with changes in mind have been calling and visiting Miller, Mitchell and Schaefer this week.

Cardin, D-3rd, is a leader in the opposition movement. "There are alternative plans that we're trying to see if we can get some support behind," he said yesterday.

But Mitchell, D-Eastern Shore, said he wants to see any alternatives presented "as a total plan, not just partial plans."

Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd, whose Baltimore County-based district would be obliterated in the plan, doesn't have the ear of Democrats Mitchell or Miller. She's counting on her friendship with Schaefer and on supporters whom she has promised to bus to the hearing.

"We're in a good battle," she said. "Sometimes I am my best in a battle."

Opponents of the plan represent areas from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore, but they're concentrated in Baltimore, Howard and Harford counties, where some of the more controversial boundary lines were drawn.

Other areas of the state, including Baltimore City, the Eastern Shore and Carroll, Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties, would remain largely within their current districts. Most of their state legislators are expected to support the plan.

"Outside of the Baltimore city and county area, I really haven't heard that much negative about it," Mitchell said.

Much of the criticism focuses on the division of Baltimore County among five far-flung congressional districts. While part of the county would be in the Western Maryland district of Rep. Beverly Byron, D-6th, another part would be in the Eastern Shore domain of Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st.

Harford County is similarly divided.

"We're going to have a big sign in Bel Air that on one side says 'Western Maryland starts here' and on the other side says 'The Eastern Shore starts here,' " said County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

Howard County would be divided into two districts instead of three, but the new lines in the plan mean that only about 7,000 of the county's 187,000 residents would remain in their current districts, complains Sue-Ellen Hantman, chairwoman of the county's Democratic Central Committee.

The three counties -- and Bentley -- fell victim to Democratic mapmakers in the redistricting panel who were trying to satisfy two constituencies.

First, they wanted to create a new black-dominated district based in Prince George's County. Second, they wanted to give the white congressman from that county, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, a relatively safe new district that wound up stretching from Southern Maryland through Howard County.

Despite opposition from these counties, plan supporters such as state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-City, said they're "getting closer" to the number of votes needed for passage.

"Right now I don't expect radical alterations to the plan," he said. "I do expect radical challenges to the plan."

Because the plan will be introduced as emergency legislation, passage will require approval of an "extraordinary" three-fifths majority, 29 votes in the Senate and 85 in the House. Routine bills require a simple majority to pass.

Anticipating that any plan would be controversial, the Senate last session approved an unusual measure lowering from 32 to 29 the number of votes needed to end a filibuster. Filibusters are not permitted in the House.

If Schaefer vetoes a plan approved by the legislature, lawmakers can override the veto with a three-fifths majority vote.

Whatever plan the Democrat-controlled legislature approves stands a good chance of being challenged in court by the Maryland Republican Party. Party officials say the current proposal violates federal guidelines.

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