Gov. William Donald Schaefer today threatened to veto the controversial congressional redistricting plan his own panel devised unless changes are made to resolve criticisms by Baltimore metropolitan area lawmakers.
Calling the plan drawn by his Governor's Advisory Committee on Redistricting "very unfair" to Baltimore City and County, Schaefer said he may be forced to submit his own remapping plan to the General Assembly if the panel refuses to make at least "just a couple adjustments" in its proposed district boundaries.
"I've seen plans that are much fairer than this," Schaefer said today in Annapolis. "This one we will veto. This one we won't submit."
Schaefer has said repeatedly criticized the panel proposal, but today marked the first public veto threat.
The governor declined to say specifically what he does not like about the panel proposal, but said the plan could be changed to meet his approval.
"Just a couple adjustments and it'll be pretty good," he said. Previously, Schaefer said he was unhappy with the way the plan eliminated Rep. Helen D. Bentley's district. Bentley, R-2nd, and Schaefer are close allies despite their political party differences.
The plan was proposed Aug. 21 by the panel, which will hear public comments on it beginning at 5 p.m. in the legislative services building near the State House.
The entire General Assembly will meet in Annapolis Sept. 25 for a special session to vote on the plan.
Bentley is furious over the plan because it would eliminate her district, apportion Baltimore County into five districts, and force her to run against fellow Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st, or take on a Democrat in largely new territory.
The five-member redistricting panel, dominated by Democrats, can alter the plan before the legislature takes it up in special session.
Sources close to the panel said that at least minor changes would be made to benefit Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, but Cardin is seeking more drastic revisions that the panel is reluctant to approve.
Cardin helped persuade Mayor Kurt Schmoke and city members of the House of Delegates to oppose the panel's plan.
The city's legislative representatives met Friday and voted to support a substitute plan that would largely preserve the districts of Cardin, Bentley and Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, at the expense of Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, whose Anne Arundel County-based district would be joined with part of the Eastern Shore.
Schmoke said he would send the panel a letter expressing his opposition, according to Del. Frank D. Boston, head of the city's legislative delegation.
Baltimore County members of the House of Delegates also voted Friday to oppose the plan.
Del. Farrell Maddox, dean of the county House delegation, said the proposed plan "divides Baltimore County too much."
"The plan just seemed to destroy the integrity of Baltimore County, going from three congressional people to five, especially at the eastern end, where they'd be represented by three alone," he said.
Schaefer would like to keep Bentley in a district that includes the Port of Baltimore. The legislature must approve the plan by a three-fifths majority.
Meanwhile, the legislature's attorney, assistant attorney general Robert A. Zarnoch, has concluded that the proposed plan is constitutional under the state and federal constitutions.
In a letter being submitted to the legislature today, Zarnoch said "aconstitutional challenge to it would not succeed."
Zarnoch, addressing some criticism of the plan, said there is no constitutional requirement that "congressional districts be compact and contiguous or honor political subdivision lines."
On the subject of gerrymandering -- in Maryland's case, rigging boundaries to the disadvantage of Republicans -- Zarnoch said U.S. Supreme Court rulings do impose "some restraints," but none that would affect the proposed plan.
However, Republican leaders have vowed to sue if they're not satisfied with the plan approved by the legislature.