Amid murky redistricting, only complaints are clear


September 27, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- As Maryland legislators went about the business this week of tailoring new congressional election districts to conform with the 1990 census, numbers were the coin of the realm.

But words -- rhetoric -- still mattered. This was the General Assembly, after all.


Shown a new district map yesterday afternoon, Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, was quick to register his view. The map had been presented by Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, as yet another point of departure -- a vehicle, he said, for discussion, a proposal that could be amended.

Mr. Cade did not find Mr. Pica's invitation or his plan particularly inviting. "I don't think it's possible to amend this dog's breakfast to make it acceptable," he said.


Notwithstanding the vigor of Mr. Cade's observation, no county's representatives have been more eager to change a redistricting map than those from Baltimore County, which has been divided among five different proposed congressional districts.The verbs were the tip-off:

One plan had "decimated" the county, said Delegate Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-Baltimore County. Her county had been "split and torn apart," she said.

Baltimore County had been "diced up" by the map-drawers, according to Delegate E. Farrell Maddox, D-Baltimore County.

The verbal coup de grace, though, came from Delegate John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore County, on Wednesday. Quoting Winston S. Churchill, Delegate Arnick said:

"The hand that holds the dagger has driven it into his neighbor's back."


In a process dominated by inscrutable maps and by discussions of population shifts -- 100,000 people moved here, 80,000 there -- Delegate Nancy K. Kopp, D-Montgomery, came closer to stirring rhetoric than most.

In her introduction of the House-backed redistricting bill, Delegate Kopp said she thought it was "not too dramatic to say rTC that redistricting is the mechanism for keeping the system democratic."

Legislators endure the pain of drawing election district lines that do not always please incumbent officeholders or potential office-seekers, or voters who have enough trouble remembering what districts they live in.

The idea is to preserve democracy by making sure that every voter knows that his or her vote has the same weight, she said.

"In other nations," she said, "they have revolutions to do that."


The verb "to draw," as used in redistricting, refers to a process by which election district lines are made on maps with the help of computers, color laser printers, census data, calculators and old-tech politics.

But the "drawing" of these lines seemed to signal a backward step for visual arts.

New district maps of varying quality have been flashing at legislators here until their eyes may be permanently glazed over: at committee hearings, in meeting rooms and on the floor of both chambers.

Some delegates seem to have mastered the art better than others.

Maps of the proposed alternatives resembled weather satellite shots complete with impenetrable cloud cover. Or they looked like a child's board game with the pieces in disarray, or even an ominous X-ray.

The maps moved across the House movie screen with such rapidity on Wednesday that no one could have detected or remembered the differences, one from the other.

In the end, the maps on the screen were of no lasting value -- because all the proposals were defeated, leaving only the House speaker's map intact.


Delegate Hattie N. Harrison, D-Baltimore, asked for permission to use a fellow delegate's name -- usually forbidden in floor debate. She wanted to wish a happy birthday to Delegate Clarence "Tiger" Davis, D-Baltimore.

"We're not usually here at this time of year," she said on the first day of the special session.

"Thank God," said House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, as he granted her wish.


Though faring better than some may have expected in the drawing of new district lines, the House Republican leadership was hobbled by other aspects of life.

Delegate Sauerbrey arrived for Wednesday's session in a wheelchair, having suffered a broken leg during the summer when she tripped over her dog.

And Minority Whip Robert H. Kittleman, R-Howard, was on crutches, having injured his knee.

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