With the political careers of some congressional lawmakers on the line, a legislative committee in Annapolis today was to take up the politically explosive chore of redrawing boundaries for Maryland's eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
A joint committee of state delegates and senators was scheduled to hear testimony on as many as a dozen proposed maps. Tomorrow, the General Assembly is to convene in a special session to try to adopt a final plan.
While lawmakers had originally hoped the issue could be decided in a day, new disagreements between the leaders of the Senate and the House of Delegates threaten to extend the session for days.
The No. 1 disagreement appears to be the fate of Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, who now represents Anne Arundel County and part of neighboring Prince George's.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. wants to play loyal Democratic politics and protect McMillen by leaving him in a Democratic-dominated district with no incumbent to challenge him.
Across the State House lobby, House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Eastern Shore, voted last week for a plan that would lump McMillen into a district that includes Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd. Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat but loyal supporter of Bentley, likes the proposal as well.
Miller, D-Prince George's, supports an option that puts Bentley in a district that would extend from her home in Lutherville over to the Eastern Shore. That would likely force her to run against a fellow Republican, first-term Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st.
"I don't think Tom McMillen is a mediocre congressman," Miller said yesterday. "He stands tall literally and figuratively," he added, referring to the former basketball star's 6-foot, 11-inch frame.
Gilchrest, Miller argued, "has absolutely no seniority," and should be vulnerable during redistricting in a Democratic-controlled state.
Miller and Mitchell, who sat together on a special redistricting panel appointed by Schaefer, appeared to be together on the issue until last week. With Miller in Ireland on a working tour, Mitchell joined two other members of the panel to adopt a revised plan that throws McMillen in with Bentley.
Miller, who said he was surprised and outraged by the panel's action, arrived at the State House yesterday ready to do battle for McMillen.
"I think I'm right," Miller said. "It's clear cut. I know where I'm headed."
Mitchell yesterday promised that the disagreement between the two top legislative leaders would be resolved.
"It's like everything else," Mitchell said. "We sit down and try to work our differences out."
While nobody knows exactly what will happen, the House and Senate could come up with different redistricting plans. If so, the issue would go to a conference committee made up of an equal number of senators and delegates.
Miller yesterday predicted the special session could drag on for as long as five days, as legislators argue about map lines.
"You can't imagine the volatility of a single precinct change," Miller said.
Some legislators are grumbling that they could have been spared some tough decisions had the state's members of Congress drawn up their own plan.
"If there was a plan that the majority of the congresspeople could say, Hey we agree with this,' then it would be a hell of a lot easier," said Del. Charles J. Ryan, D-Prince George's.