House, Senate approve 2 plans for redistricting Leaders harbor little hope for quick compromise

September 25, 1991|By Tom Bowman and John W. Frece | Tom Bowman and John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Two competing views of how Maryland's congressional districts should be shaped for the next decade were approved yesterday by House and Senate committees, with no compromise in sight as legislators prepared for today's special session of the General Assembly.

The House Rules Committee voted 11-to-4 for a redistricting plan that would place Representatives Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, and Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, in the same district, stretching from Anne Arundel County to Mrs. Bentley's Lutherville home in Baltimore County.

A short time later, a Senate redistricting committee in a 9-to-5 vote backed a plan that would place Mrs. Bentley in a district with Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st. It would stretch north from Baltimore County, around the head of the Chesapeake Bay and down to the lowest reaches of the Eastern Shore.

Both plans produced grumbles from lawmakers, especially those in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, who claimed their areas were being sliced up to satisfy the electoral ambitions of congressional incumbents and other political imperatives.

The opposing plans had the support of the respective house leaders: Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, for one and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, for the other.

Mr. Miller predicted a slow process, saying it could take days before everyone's ideas are heard and a compromise is reached by the legislature. Originally, a one-day session had been envisioned.

"We're very far from a consensus," agreed House MajoritLeader D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington. "So far, Clay [Mitchell] and Mike [Miller] are talking . . . it is not something that has grown nasty. No one is slamming doors."

In both the House and the Senate, Baltimore County lawmakers -- Democratic as well as Republican -- complained that both maps split their county five ways.

"It's totally ridiculous," said House Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-Baltimore County. "My legislative district alone is split into four congressional districts."

Why can't we in Baltimore County have our own congressional district?" asked Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County.

Delegate Tyras S. Athey, D-Anne Arundel, joined opponents of the House plan but for a different reason. He and other Anne Arundel County Democrats fear the plan invites Mrs. Bentley, a popular Republican, to run in a largely Anne Arundel County district that is already shifting toward the GOP.

During a four-hour public hearing on 16 separate redistricting plans yesterday, five of the state's eight members of Congress, trailed by aides carrying rolled up maps, hovered in and around the hearing room, watching as their political futures were being decided. Witnesses ranged from business executives urging retention of pro-business incumbents, to steelworkers and senior citizen groups opposing the breakup of Baltimore County, to state Democratic and Republican party officials.

Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, a former State Senate president, worked the two committees like a candidate, shaking hands with each member.

The political quagmire was created by the legal requirement to create a new majority-black district in the Washington suburbs, and the political reality of protection for Mr. Hoyer, the fourth-ranking House Democrat and a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

Those two imperatives, combined with boundaries dictated by the geography of the state, have left legislators trying to decide which two incumbents will be forced to run against each other, and in what kind of district.

The House committee, without discussion, took less than two minutes yesterday to approve its measure -- the same plan approved last week by the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee.

By contrast, a testy Senate committee argued for nearly three hours over proposed amendments. The only amendment approved would switch 69,000 residents from the proposed new 8th District back to Western Maryland's 6th District. But no decision was made on what changes would be made elsewhere to accomplish that move.

Dozens more amendments were expected to be proposed when the two houses convene this morning.

The Senate committee's proposal -- advocated personally by Mr. Miller -- was a reshuffling of a plan that the governor's advisory committee had adopted last month to bipartisan furor. Mr. Miller said those changes had been approved by Mr. Mitchell and Gov. William Donald Schaefer shortly before the Senate president left for a trip to Ireland.

The changes would bow to the governor's wishes by adding Dundalk and Essex to the Bentley-Gilchrest district, said Mr. Miller, explaining that Mr. Schaefer wanted Mrs. Bentley, the port's champion, to remain politically connected to thatarea.

But the advisory committee switched to a McMillen-Bentley matchup while Mr. Miller was overseas.

"The Speaker felt a better plan came along and it also fit the agendas" of other committee members, said Mr. Miller.

Today in Annapolis

11 a.m.: General Assembly convenes in special session to consider congressional redistricting bills, bills involving state exemption from the Federal Secondary Mortgage Market Enhancement Act of 1984, and bills involving redistricting for the Prince George's County school board: House and Senate chambers.

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