Making a significant change, the governor's congressional redistricting panel has approved a new plan that would pit Republican Rep. Helen D. Bentley against Democratic Rep. Tom McMillen.
A key member of the panel, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., predicted last night that the legislature would approve the plan in a special session that begins Wednesday.
And Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who had threatened to veto an earlier plan, "has indicated he would be supportive" of the new plan, said Ronald M. Kreitner, director of the state Office of Planning.
Compared with the earlier plan approved by the panel, the new one favors Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, at the expense of McMillen, D-4th. It also appears to help Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th; Beverly Byron, D-6th; and Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st.
The panel met behind closed doors and voted 3-1 for the plan last night, with former state Del. Donna M. Felling voting against the plan because it divides Baltimore County into five congressional districts. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., another key member, was in Ireland when the panel met.
The plan replaces a controversial one the panel approved Aug. 20. Although both plans carve up Bentley's Baltimore County-based 2nd District, the new plan places a large area now represented by Bentley in McMillen's 4th District.
McMillen's district under the new plan would consist of about 413,000 Anne Arundel County residents and 184,000 Baltimore County citizens, including people living in an area extending from Essex and Dundalk to Timonium.
Under the Aug. 20 plan, McMillen's district would have included much less of Baltimore County, primarily parts of Essex and Dundalk.
The change increases the likelihood that Bentley would oppose McMillen instead of Cardin because the new plan adds Bentley supporters in Baltimore County to McMillen's proposed district and strengthens Cardin.
Cardin's district under the new plan restores areas in Howard and Baltimore counties that he would have lost under the Aug. 20 plan.
"I'm extremely pleased, obviously, with those changes," Cardin said, adding that the new plan also appears to favor the Baltimore area by ensuring representation by three members of Congress.
Bentley's home is in McMillen's 4th District and she said today she could beat him -- if the legislature approves the plan and she decides to run for Congress again. She has said she is considering a run next year against Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md. "I have no problem beating McMillen," she said.
Although she said the new plan is better for her than the previous one, she complained, "It still splits Baltimore County into five districts; it splits my district into four parts.
L "I don't think it's going to fly," Bentley said of the plan.
McMillen could not be reached, and his press secretary declined to comment.
Panel members say the new plan attempts to resolve complaints about the earlier one.
The Aug. 20 plan upset Baltimore County politicians because it divided the county among five districts. City officials also opposed it in the belief that the Baltimore area would lose congressional representation.
Harford County officials were appalled because the county would have been split between Western Maryland and Eastern Shore districts.
Some Montgomery and Howard County officials also criticized the plan.
By contrast, the new plan puts all of Harford County into the 1st District and returns Columbia to Cardin's district. This may mollify Byron, who was furious that the Aug. 20 plan stretched her Western Maryland district into Harford County. Her district under the new plan ends in Baltimore County.
Hoyer also appears to be a beneficiary, getting what would likely be a supportive area of Montgomery County added to his district. Gilchrest benefits because the panel has given up its goal of pairing him with Bentley in a matchup of the state's two Republican representatives.
Above all, the new plan appeases its most influential critics: Cardin, who fought hard to keep his district mostly as it is now and head off a challenge from Bentley; and Schaefer, who is friends with Bentley and wanted the area around the Port of Baltimore in one district.
Although Baltimore County remains divided five ways, Felling said the new plan "is the best plan in maintaining the level of integrity for Baltimore County." She didn't elaborate.
Baltimore County residents would be split this way in the new plan: 208,000 in Cardin's 3rd District; 127,600 in Rep. Kweisi Mfume's 7th District; 71,000 in Gilchrest's 1st District; 99,000 in Byron's 6th District; and the 184,000 in McMillen's revised 4th District.
Mitchell said the new plan is "probably more palatable to more people." He and other panel members suggested that the new plan is better for McMillen than the Aug. 20 version because it has a greater proportion of registered Democrats, 62 percent compared with 57 percent in the first plan.
But that overlooks the fact that the new plan gives Bentley a much more solid base in Baltimore County from which to attack McMillen.
Conflict was inevitable from the start of the redistricting process. The panel decided early on to create a new largely black district in Prince George's County and move the white congressman representing Prince George's, Hoyer, to a district based in Southern Maryland. That necessitated putting two incumbents together in a district.
Nor will the new plan satisfy everyone, Mitchell conceded. "There's going to be a lot of complaints about this," he said.