A Lasting Political Monument

BARRY RASCOVAR

September 01, 1991|By BARRY RASCOVAR

"The gang that couldn't Shoot straight," otherwise known as the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee, has accomplished the impossible. It has devised a new congressional realignment that offends a large number of people yet achieves none of the results desired by commission members.

If the panel had set out to sabotage itself, it couldn't have done much better.

Look at how each committee member's objectives fared:

* House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell had only one interest -- keeping his beloved Eastern Shore as a single entity. He succeeded in that respect but rejected plans that would have secured the seat for an Eastern Shore resident. Instead, he opted for a plan that virtually cedes the district to political forces in Baltimore and Harford counties -- by far the fastest-growing parts of the district, which have precious little in common with the rural shore.

* Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the driving force behind the plan, wanted to make life difficult for Republicans, protect Rep. Steny Hoyer of Prince George's County and protect Rep. Tom McMillen of Anne Arundel County.

Yet the Miller plan places in jeopardy four of the five Democratic incumbents. Mr. McMillen already is viewed as vulnerable in his "rowboat district" (Arundel, the eastern half of Howard County and Dundalk and Essex in Baltimore County across the harbor). And Mr. Hoyer will have to fight to survive in a district (western Howard, eastern Prince George's and Southern Maryland) that is conservative and increasingly Republican.

* Former Judge Benjamin L. Brown, the committee chairman, had two goals -- maintain Baltimore City's strength in Congress and protect Gov. William Donald Schaefer's best friend in the delegation, Republican Helen D. Bentley.

He failed miserably. The city is left with one true urban voice. Rep. Benjamin Cardin's district is now far more suburban (and increasingly Republican) than it is urban-oriented. Mrs. Bentley's district is now part of the rural Eastern Shore, represented by a fellow Republican, Wayne Gilchrest.

* The panel's lone Republican, Norman Glasgow, went into the meetings seeking to help Mrs. Bentley and another Republican incumbent, Montgomery's Constance Morella. He succeeded in the latter but not in the former. His last attempt to help Mrs. Bentley -- proposing a sensible alternative that would have created a Baltimore-Harford-Cecil district for her -- went down the tubes when House Speaker Mitchell vetoed that plan because he said Cecil must remain within the Eastern Shore district.

* Former Del. Donna Felling, the fifth committee member, was supposed to represent Baltimore County's interests. Instead, she participated in the defenestration of the county. The committee tossed Baltimore County out the window, divvying up its remains among five different districts. Mrs. Felling may have delivered a fatal blow to her hopes for a political comeback.

To make matters worse, Mr. Miller now appears to be digging in his heels and threatening state senators with dire consequences on legislative redistricting if they fail to back his congressional plan. Nor does Mr. Mitchell seem eager to re-open the discussion.

Republicans are gleeful. The lone exception is Mrs. Bentley. Yet she, too, could end up a long-term winner. If "the gang that couldn't shoot straight" prevails, the GOP could seize control of the Maryland delegation in Congress next year and stage a dramatic comeback in 1994.

Here's the 1992 scenario: George Bush wins Maryland by a landslide, propelling popular Republican state Sen. John Cade to victory over Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

This helps Republicans take five of eight House seats, with Mrs. Bentley besting Mr. McMillen in a classic grudge match and Baltimore County Del. Ellen Sauerbrey defeating Democratic Rep. Beverly Byron.

Then comes 1994: A confident GOP wins the governor's mansion with Anne Arundel County Executive Robert Neall. Mrs. Bentley, holding a broadened base in Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties, coasts to victory over Maryland's "stealth senator," Paul Sarbanes. Republicans take six of eight House seats with state Sen. F. Vernon Boozer defeating Mr. Cardin.

Republican county executives are easily reelected in Howard and Baltimore counties and Republicans emerge victorious in executive races in Anne Arundel and Harford counties. Republicans control the local councils, too. Republicans pick up a majority of state legislative seats in Harford, Howard and Baltimore counties and make surprising gains in Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties.

L Toward the end of the decade, Democrats could be on the run.

In 1998, Governor Neall should sweep to re-election, setting the stage for another big Republican gain in state and local offices. Meanwhile, the Miller plan gives Rep. Kweisi Mfume western Baltimore County, an area that could explode with growth just as the city part of his district is shrinking in population. The result: a district where whites could be a majority by the year 2000, with Mr. Mfume susceptible to a strong Republican challenge. Seven of eight congressmen might then belong to the GOP.

All these outcomes flow from the botched redistricting plan. If it is allowed to stand, it could be a landmark political achievement -- for all the wrong reasons.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editor of the editorial pages of The Sun. His column on Maryland politics appears here each Sunday.

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