State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who was out of the country when an alternative congressional redistricting proposal was approved by a committee last week, says he does not support the new plan.
Because of that, lawmakers now are bracing themselves for a political donnybrook that could end in a deadlock and place the controversial issue into the hands of federal arbiters. The General Assembly will meet Wednesday for the purpose of adopting new congressional district boundaries.
Miller is one of five members of the governor's redistricting panel that worked all summer to realign the boundaries of Maryland's eight congressional districts.
Miller, who returned Saturday from a vacation in Ireland to find that a redistricting plan he backed had been scrapped in favor of a different proposal, said yesterday he will not support his panel colleagues.
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., also a panel member, and Gov. William Donald Schaefer favor the latest proposal.
By a 3-1 vote Thursday, the panel approved maps that would pit Republican Rep. Helen D. Bentley against Democratic Rep. Tom McMillen.
Miller said he does not see an easy resolution to the controversy.
"Batting practice is over and the ballgame hasn't even begun yet," the Prince George's County Democrat said. "The score is zero-zero."
Unlike the earlier plan that was backed by Miller, the latest proposal favors Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, at the expense of McMillen, D-4th. The plan also secures a so-called "safe seat" for Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, and removes the threat that Bentley would run against freshman Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest in the 1st District.
The panel's plan has the backing of Mitchell, the powerful Eastern Shore Democrat who insists that the nine Shore counties be kept intact in a single congressional district. The panel's plan would do that.
The governor, who earlier had threatened to veto other redistricting plans, said Friday the panel's plan met with his approval.
"I like the new plan," he said. "It's fair. It makes more sense."
Schaefer said it would be "a slap in the face" to the panel if Miller saw to it that the latest plan was not submitted as a bill Wednesday to the Senate.
In a prediction yesterday that underscores the seriousness of the differences over the redistricting proposals, Miller said he does not believe the special session will be over in a single day as lawmakers are hoping.
Miller said last week's unexpected action by the panel could have the effect of unraveling efforts to speed a redistricting bill through the legislature in one sitting. Without a consensus behind a plan in both the House and the Senate, he said, numerous other remapping proposals will be brought forth.
And if that occurs, Miller said, lawmakers could be forced to abandon all attempts to pass one plan and go home with the redistricting issue unsettled. If that happens, the matter could go to the federal courts, which would draw Maryland's congressional boundaries.