Time for Redistricting Retreat

September 05, 1991

If politics is indeed the art of the possible, the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee has a golden opportunity to avert potential calamity by retreating from its proposed congressional district map and seeking fresh solutions that will avert needless political ill will.

Tuesday night's lengthy public hearing in Annapolis was dominated by those opposing the committee's plan that would chop Baltimore County into five pieces, ignore Howard and Harford counties' growing ties to Baltimore, split neighborhoods and toss distant communities together that have almost nothing in common. There was a central theme in much of the testimony: the current proposal is needlessly disruptive to Marylanders. There are other ways to redraw boundary lines that retain regional integrity without applying a meat cleaver to the Baltimore area.

But it is not only folks in the Baltimore region who are upset. The Eastern Shore Association of Democratic State Central Committees opposes the plan because it includes suburbanized Lutherville and Timonium in the same district with rural Snow Hill and Crisfield. Western Maryland folks are distressed that they will be in a district that takes some six hours to drive east to west. There is no way a member of Congress can give constituents in such sprawling districts the same service that citizens will receive in the compact districts surrounding Washington. Some Marylanders will rightly feel disenfranchised.

Committee chairman Benjamin L. Brown should see to it that the panel revisits earlier plans, including a sensible arrangement drawn up by the majority of Maryland's members of Congress. Additionally, state Republicans have presented a proposal that has considerable merit. And state Del. John J. Bishop recently submitted a thoughtful plan that retains compact districts throughout Maryland.

We hope committee members can put partisan considerations aside and treat all sectors of Maryland fairly in devising new congressional boundaries. The current plan is so disruptive that it will set off countless firestorms in the General Assembly that will affect other issues next year, including legislative redistricting. Gov. William Donald Schaefer already is pledging a well-deserved veto unless the plan is altered.

A better approach would be a brand new map. If the committee relies on its staff to handle the complex computer formulations, that won't take much time. It is the fair and equitable thing to do. We know that panel members don't want to tear Maryland apart. Sadly, their current redistricting plan has that potential. Why take such a risk? Let the panel agree on another map that brings harmony, not dissension, to Maryland's eight congressional districts.

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