Debate leaves redistricting's hot spot cold

September 29, 1991|By Robert A. Erlandson and Dennis O'Brien | Robert A. Erlandson and Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

In the State House these days, Baltimore County legislators are fighting to the last breath to stave off a congressional redistricting plan that would divide the state's fourth most populous subdivision among five congressmen.

The plan is "a stab in the back," said one; a "hit over the head," said another. "Don't join in this rape of Baltimore County," a third implored his colleagues.

But if 30 random interviews with county residents from Dundalk to Lansdowne late last week are any indication, many of the folks back home who pay the taxes and cast the votes know little about this redistricting business and find it too complicated, dull and distant from their lives to matter much.

Truck drivers, sales representatives, computer technicians, beauticians, retired shipyard workers, landscapers and homemakers voiced considerable skepticism about the process and repeatedly said that the General Assembly should spend its time and energy on other matters.

"There's a lot more important things to consider than where the boundary lines are going to be, when you have kids getting shot in the streets, so many people out of work in this state and things affecting the lives of regular people," said Richard L. Graham, 32, a $20,000-a-year truck driver from Hampstead.

Mr. Graham, whose comments were typical, said the state would be better served if the General Assembly concentrated on getting the Maryland economy back on track.

The recession has meant a reduction in highway projects, which has in turn made it hard for truck drivers like him to find work, he said.

"They don't focus on what's important to people," he said of the legislators.

Many of those interviewed also said they feel elected officials are "out for themselves" and care little about issues that affect constituents' lives.

"Getting people out working, so they can have money to spend, that's what matters," said W. C. Goldsborough, a retired engineer.

Some residents said that they are interested in the redistricting issue but that their work schedules and personal lives leave very little time to follow local politics and keep up with its Byzantine workings.

"I try to stay on top of it all, but its hard," said Ken Berger, a Towson sales clerk.

He said Friday that his 60-hour workweeks left little time for current events and that his morning newspaper was waiting for him -- unread -- on the front seat of his car.

Many said they feel shut out of the redistricting process, which involved a series of public hearings throughout the state before a plan was submitted to the legislature.

Others said the plans being discussed are just too complicated.

"It's not something that you can easily follow, and to a lot of people, it's boring," said Michelle Robertson of Essex, assistant manager of Spencer's Gifts at the Eastpoint Mall.

The redistricting plan approved by the House of Delegates would carve the county into five districts, shifting many voters out of Representative Helen Delich Bentley's 2nd District into four others.

A Senate compromise plan also would shift many voters, but the county would be divided into three congressional districts, as it is now.

Mrs. Bentley enjoys a loyal following, and many of those interviewed said that they would prefer she remain their representative.

Still, only about half could name her as their representative.

And although many said that they would hate to see her replaced, most also said that it would make little difference in the long run.

"For me its immaterial who represents us," said Robert Colbert, a retired Bethlehem Steel worker from Dundalk. "It's just not going to make any difference."

Several of those interviewed said they are following the redistricting debate distantly, if at all.

"I'm not informed, and no matter who we have representing us, I doubt that it would make a difference," said Michelle Isennock, a church employee from Fork.

Some could name their current representative but had no idea where they might be shifted under plans now being discussed.

Edith A. Thompson, 76, who lives on Harford Road in Carney, agrees with county legislators who say Baltimore County should not be fragmented further because that would dilute its political clout. And she wants to retain Mrs. Bentley as her representative no matter how districts are realigned.

But Betsy Tennill of Shiloh Court in Lansdowne said she likes the idea of five representatives in the county because "the more representation you have, the stronger you are."

Mrs. Tennill said she has been pleased with her congressman, Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, and would want to know what programs and issues are important to any successor before passing judgment on his or her merits.

Karl A. W. Heymann, 64, of Reisterstown, said he has followed the redistricting debate, "but there's no sense getting myself all worked up until it's done and we see it."

A Bentley loyalist, he thinks there's a better way to deal with this vexing political issue.

"I think a couple of plans should be put on referendum -- that way the people could choose," Mr. Heymann said.

"That's the democratic way, but [the politicians] don't want that."

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