Compromise on redistricting gains support Plan could garner greater Senate backing

September 28, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Correspondent John W. Frece and C. Fraser Smith of The Sun's Annapolis Bureau contributed to this report.

ANNAPOLIS -- The Senate yesterday recessed until Monday while its leaders continued to fine-tune a compromise congressional redistricting plan that appeared to be gaining support outside the chamber.

The compromise, which would place Representatives Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, and Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, in the same district, drew the backing of some House leaders before the House adjourned Thursday until Oct. 21.

Meanwhile, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has backed a House-passed plan, could likely support the compromise, an adviser to the governor said yesterday.

The adviser said that the compromise would serve one of Mr. Schaefer's prime objectives, preserving Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, in a district that includes the port of Baltimore, which she has long championed.

The House and Senate have been deadlocked since Thursday over how to draw a new congressional map.

The House approved a plan, 89-13, that would pit Mr. McMillen and Mrs. Bentley against each other, while the Senate voted 33-13 for a plan that would cast Mrs. Bentley against Mr. Gilchrest.

Senate leaders hope to finish their work on the compromise measure today and bring it up for a vote Monday to expected wider support. A vote was expected yesterday but was postponed because of a computer glitch, delaying the colored maps, precinct counts and other detailed information that is the lifeblood of the once-a-decade process.

In another development yesterday, the attorney general's office issued an opinion saying that House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, was required under the state constitution to have Senate consent for any recess lasting more than three days. But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said that he did not plan to press the issue for now.

Still, some lawmakers say that the possibility of a federal court drawing the congressional districts looms if the two houses cannot reach an agreement.

The major sticking point between the two houses is which two congressmen to place in the same district.

Two congressmen would have to double up because of what have become twin necessities: forging a majority-black district in the Washington suburbs to satisfy the Voting Rights Act, and creating a "safe seat" for Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, a Democratic leader on Capitol Hill widely viewed as the state's most important congressman.

House lawmakers familiar with the negotiating between the two houses say some House leaders, including Majority Leader D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, believed they were close to a compromise with the Senate Wednesday night on that McMillen-Gilchrest matchup.

But Mr. Mitchell became angry with his floor leader and jerked the compromise from the table, preferring to stick with the House-passed measure he has called the "fairest plan."

"We did have a disagreement, but I understand his concerns and I support him," Mr. Poole said. He added, "I continue to work with the senators. Clay has told us to keep all lines open."

Political observers say Mr. Mitchell believes his plan does the least damage to the Eastern Shore. He has been adamant that the Shore be kept intact in one district.

But the Senate compromise plan would shave off Cecil County from the 1st District and add it to a proposed district for Mrs. Bentley. The proposal has infuriated Mr. Mitchell and other Eastern Shore lawmakers, who fear the Shore will lose the ability to elect its own congressman.

Under the Senate compromise proposal, Anne Arundel would make up 325,000 voters of the 597,000-voter 1st District.

"What we're doing here today is deciding whether the Eastern Shore has another congressman," said Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr., D-Dorchester. "We're going down fighting. The Senate is not going to help us."

Mr. Mitchell declined to comment on any new redistricting plans.

The proposed compromise has also drawn the ire of Anne Arundel lawmakers who do not want to see their county split into three districts when it now is centered in one -- Mr. McMillen's. Mr. Hoyer and Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, would represent portions of the county under the proposal.

"None of us like it," said Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad, D-Anne Arundel.

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