One minute, Carroll County is part of Western Maryland.
The next minute, part of it is lopped off into metropolitan Washington, and inthe next, yet another part is thrown in with northern Baltimore County.
If you blinked while looking at congressional boundary lines lastweek, you may have missed a proposal for realigning the state's eight-member House of Representatives delegation.
And if you spend enough time figuring out where Carroll is at the moment -- supposedly safely tucked in with the four Western Maryland counties -- you could be hit with yet another proposal.
"All kinds of unorthodox things have been happening down there," said Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll,Baltimore, referring to the nearly four-day long General Assembly session in Annapolis.
The latest possibility being hammered out by aSenate committee puts Carroll into a 6th District with all of Frederick, Allegany, Washington and Garrett counties, plus part of north Howard County.
The House of Delegates stormed out of Annapolis Thursday after Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, ordered the body to recess until Oct. 21. Before delegates left, they passed a plan that also would have kept Carroll intact, but would add portions of northern Baltimore County in the 6th District.
The Senate, at the urging of President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, passed a different plan, which would carve out the southern portions of Frederick and Carroll counties into the Montgomery County-dominated 8thDistrict.
Such an alignment -- which would erode the political power of the Baltimore area and increase the power of the metropolitan Washington counties -- is strongly opposed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
The two houses were to meet in conference committee to hammer out the differences between the two plans, but Mitchell decided towalk out, saying it was a waste of time and money to remain.
All of Carroll's House delegation -- except for Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore -- voted in favor of the proposal keeping Carroll with the rest of Western Maryland.
And Sens. Haines and Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard, expect to support yet another compromise tomorrow that would keep Carroll intact and put a portion of Howard County into the 6th.
"Anything can happen," Smelser said Friday. "This is not a nice process to watch."
At least not for people like Representative Beverly B. Byron, a Democrat, who has reacted variously with anger, disgust, contentment and surprise.
Her hold -- Byron is in her seventh term -- on the 6th is expected to remain safe under any of the half-dozen or so redistricting plans floating around Annapolis.
But she has said that any plan to wouldbreak up Carroll or Fred
erick counties "stinks," adding such a move would "spoil the flavor of Western Maryland."
Haines and Smelser said the two most likely possibilities are an intact Carroll or a Carroll with the eastern sliver -- 15,000 people in the eighth and fifth county electoral precincts near Hampstead -- lumped into the 2nd District with Baltimore County.
Each of Maryland's eight congressional districts will have about 600,000 people.
The redistricting, required every 10 years after the national census, is not the only big issue confronting the General Assembly. As the state's deficit for the current fiscal year approaches $500 million, many political observers are saying the General Assembly should call another special session to make spending cuts or consider tax increases.
The division between Mitchell and Miller over redistricting could cause a delay indealing with the state's financial problems.
Despite the conflict, some Senate leaders said they think the two will reach an accommodation on redistricting before the issue interferes with the budget.