Saving Bentley

September 23, 1991

If God Himself could speak out and create a redistricting plan for Maryland, it's certain that at least one member of the present delegation would be crying to high heaven. Census constraints require the creation of a new, minority congressional district in the Washington suburbs. That leaves the eight incumbent House members playing musical chairs. When the noise of partisan fighting stops, there will be seats for only seven.

So it should come as no surprise that in the month since Redistricting Plan No. 1 was endorsed by the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee -- a plan which brazenly edged out Republican Helen Bentley -- that Bentley has fought back hard. And won. The commission retrenched last week and endorsed an alternate plan, which could pit Bentley against a Democratic incumbent in the next election, rather than a Republican, and virtually locks in another term for the congresswoman to boot.

It is critical to note, however, that Redistricting Plan No. 2 does not address the concerns citizens had about the first plan. The new plan, like the old one, still divides Baltimore County among five congressional districts. Neither does it create the demographic cohesion critics of the first plan wanted. While Plan No. 1 lumped Baltimore Countians together with Eastern Shore residents, with whom they said they had little in common, Bentley herself noted on a radio show last week that the new plan puts people who live "a block from my home" into the 6th District with Cumberland residents. Plan No. 2, however, does move enough Bentley strongholds into District 4 to give her an excellent chance of beating Tom McMillen in the next election.

All the noble rhetoric aside, it comes comes down to this: The commission's reversal is testament to Bentley's clout, and to the fact that in reality there is no right or wrong in redistricting, anyway. There is only politics.

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