Redistricting: Better, Not Best

September 23, 1991

What Gov. William Donald Schaefer and his special committee on congressional redistricting have come up with marks a significant improvement over the panel's earlier, deeply flawed proposal. Sadly, though, the latest map still puts the wishes of politicians ahead of the welfare of Maryland's neighborhoods and communities, especially in Baltimore County.

The new plan, like the old plan, slices Baltimore County into five parts. The most egregious incisions place 71,000 east-county residents in an Eastern Shore district where their suburban orientation will be totally overwhelmed by the shore's rural leanings and another 184,000 county residents suddenly attached to a district dominated by Anne Arundel County across the harbor.

Equally unacceptable is the inclusion of Harford County in the Eastern Shore district. Harford's orientation is no longer rural but metropolitan. It is more and more an integral part of the Baltimore metropolis, with less and less in common with folks in Chestertown and Snow Hill.

Far more acceptable would be a plan that links the shore to Arundel and Calvert counties by way of the bay bridge. Such a move would create a more demographically and socially compatible district and make it possible to keep much of Baltimore and Harford counties together.

Still, the committee's map is vastly superior to its earlier effort and light-years ahead of alternate plans floated by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller that would further decimate the Baltimore area and distort congressional districts for Montgomery County and Western Maryland. The panel's proposal at least keeps Harford whole, keeps Columbia in one piece, creates a less elongated and more compact Western Maryland district, keeps most of Baltimore County within Baltimore districts, reunites the area's Jewish population and creates three districts with an urban orientation -- including a new city-Baltimore County-Anne Arundel County district with a distinctive port/Chesapeake Bay flavor.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell and the governor are satisfied with this new plan. That puts the map two-thirds of the way toward its goal. Getting any map through the state Senate may be difficult, though. There is no agreement within the Senate on redistricting. Mr. Miller's fixation with extending the Greater Washington sphere of influence into Baltimore can't pass muster. And efforts to distort the congressional map to heavily favor Democrats are losing favor.

When the General Assembly convenes its special session on Wednesday to take up redistricting, it could quickly find itself deadlocked, with the governor and House on one side and a divided Senate on the other. A consensus plan will have to be hammered out. We urge legislators to do so by giving greater weight to the desires of neighborhoods and communities and less weight to the political consequences of their actions.

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