The House of Delegates today approved a congressional redistricting plan opposed by the Senate, which was considering its own plans.
After defeating several alternatives, the House voted 89 to 13 in favor of the plan that a state redistricting committee approved last week. That plan pits Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, against Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd, and is opposed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
With the chambers split on the issue, today's session, originally supposed to last only one day, could turn into one of the most divisive and confusing gatherings of the General Assembly in recent memory.
Tempers flared early when a Baltimore County state senator, upset that both plans would carve the county into several pieces, railed against what he said was unfair treatment.
"The system stinks," hissed Democrat Thomas L. Bromwell.
Bewildered lawmakers speculated that the special session could run several days and could be recessed even until next week while key legislators work out a compromise plan.
If the House and Senate pass their own separate redistricting bills, the fate of the new congressional maps could be decided by a six-member conference committee. If that fails, the legislature could declare a mutual defeat and let a federal court draw the boundaries.
Or, some lawmakers say, a deadlocked General Assembly could call it quits and pass emergency legislation moving Maryland's 1992 presidential and congressional primary elections from early March to a later date. That would allow members to return to redistricting at the regular January session.
The major debate appears to be whether Rep. Bentley, the 2nd District's feisty Republican, will be pitted against Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a fellow Republican from the 1st District, or Rep. McMillen, a Democrat from the 4th District.
The House wants her to run against McMillen. The Senate wants her to run against Gilchrest.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said today that he is willing to be flexible but is not confident the House is willing to negotiate. He said he may be forced to send several redistricting bills across the hall to the House for its consideration.
House Minority Leader Ellen Sauerbrey, R-Balto. Co., introduced a plan on the House floor that would keep Bentley's district intact and force Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, to run in the new minority district based in Prince George's County or face McMillen in a district that includes much of Anne Arundel County. That plan and another from Baltimore County Democrats were overwhelmingly voted down.
Yesterday, after a remarkably calm hearing before the joint committee on about a dozen redistricting plans, the House Rules Committee quickly voted 11-4 in favor of a plan that would put McMillen and Bentley in the same district.
The plan endorsed by the House committee was approved late last week by Gov. William Donald Schaefer's advisory committee on redistricting and has the support of the governor and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Eastern Shore, who served on the panel.
But, by voting 9-5 yesterday to send a different plan to the Senate floor, a special Senate redistricting committee set the stage for a potential deadlock over the issue.
That plan -- which pits Bentley against Gilchrest -- is favored by Miller, who also is a member of the governor's redistricting panel. He was in Ireland last week when the gubernatorial panel made its final recommendation.
While both the House and the Senate appear to be following their leadership with the endorsements of each body's redistricting plan, the route each took differed widely.
The vote in the House committee took less than two minutes. But the Senate panel, which consists of several powerful and independent committee chairmen, spent the better part of the afternoon in a lively and sometimes befuddling gabfest over what effect various "conceptual" amendments would have on the overall redistricting plan.
Although the Senate committee rejected three such "concepts," the action does not prevent supporters from bringing the issues up as formal amendments during floor debate.
Concerns by some lawmakers that Baltimore County will be sliced into four or five districts erupted today in the Senate committee work session when Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Eastern Shore, told the group to approve the Miller-backed plan and send it onto the Senate floor.
"The world will little note nor long remember what we do here," Baker said, touching off an angry outburst from Bromwell.
"Except for Baltimore County," he responded loudly. "You better believe we'll remember."