The House of Delegates will return to Annapolis Thursday, cutting short a month-long break ordered by its leader, to consider compromise congressional redistricting plans.
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., who sent the House home last week after fuming that his favored redistricting plan was not receiving fair consideration across the hall in the Senate, said last night that it's time to start negotiating again.
Progress in the stalled process, Mitchell said, "depends on the climate when we bring everybody back in."
The Senate, meanwhile, came back to Annapolis today and was expected to pass a new redistricting plan. The proposal would lump nearly all of the Eastern Shore into a district with most of Anne Arundel County, forcing Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, to run against another incumbent, Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st.
Mitchell, D-Eastern Shore, said the plan had several problems, including its splitting Cecil County from the rest of the Shore, which would reduce the Shore's clout in a congressional election. He also questioned the wisdom of chopping up Howard and Anne Arundel counties and placing parts of each in three different congressional districts.
Asked how the plan would fare in the House, Mitchell only said, "85 votes will pass a plan."
Mitchell said he planned to sit down with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. tomorrow to discuss redistricting. The two men publicly quarreled last week and their relationship still seems ragged.
Mitchell complained last night that Miller had questioned the constitutionality of Mitchell's decision to recess the House without the permission of the Senate.
"I'm sure the House is not going to be very appreciative that the president of the Senate challenged a ruling of the Speaker," Mitchell said.
Miller, D-Prince George's, said last night that he never challenged Mitchell on his decision to leave the State House and had no intention of sparking a constitutional battle by trying to compel Mitchell to bring the House back.
"I don't want to make that kind of history," Miller said.
Even with the House members at home, the Senate continued work on redistricting plans late last week.
Maryland retained its eight seats in the House of Representatives after the 1990 Census was completed. But, state legislators are planning to carve out a new black-dominated district in the Washington suburbs to accommodate black population growth. That means the eight incumbents will be spread through seven districts.
The House of Delegates passed a plan last week that would put McMillen into a district against Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd. The Senate's first plan, championed by Miller and state Democratic Chairman Nathan Landow, would have put Bentley into a district with fellow Republican Gilchrest.
The new Senate plan, which appears to hurt McMillen the most FTC among the eight incumbents, would make him run largely in unfamiliar territory on the Eastern Shore.