Mitchell proposes redistricting plan to keep Shore intact Senate's Miller says bid to pare Arundel would be 'unfair'

October 02, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS -- House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, unveiled a compromise congressional redistricting plan yesterday that places Representatives Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, and Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, in the same district, as in a proposal approved earlier this week by the Senate.

But there is a key difference. The House speaker insists that an Eastern Shore district include Cecil County, and this is achieved in the newest plan by trimming more voters from Anne Arundel County, Mr. McMillen's home turf.

The Senate proposal had separated Cecil County from the Shore by making it part of a district for Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd.

"I feel strongly about keeping the Shore together," said Mr. Mitchell, after briefing Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, on the plan, which he hopes can break a weeklong legislative deadlock over how to redraw Maryland's congressional districts.

"I didn't want to be accused of doing nothing," Mr. Mitchell added.

But Mr. Miller criticized the plan as unfair. "It's not fair to Annapolis, it's not fair to Anne Arundel County, and it's not fair to Tom McMillen," Mr. Miller said. "It's just not acceptable to the Senate."

While Mr. Mitchell said the governor supported the new plan, Mr. Schaefer declined to comment. But he referred to the House and Senate as being "so close" to agreement and added: "If cool heads prevail, this can be over and signed by Friday."

If the House and Senate remain deadlocked, a federal court could be asked to draw the new congressional district boundaries.

Under Mr. Mitchell's plan, most of the people in the 4th Congressional District would become residents of the Eastern Shore -- the reverse of what the Senate-passed plan would do. In the proposed new configuration, the district would include about 254,000 residents of Anne Arundel County and about 343,000 residents of the Eastern Shore.

Mr. Mitchell and other Shore lawmakers have angrily criticized the Senate plan for splitting the traditional Shore area, believing that it would leave the peninsula without enough population to elect its own congressman.

Under the Senate-passed plan, Cecil County would be part of a district drawn for Mrs. Bentley. In Mr. Mitchell's plan, Mrs. Bentley's district would move deeper into Baltimore County.

As a result, the district of Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, would move farther south into Anne Arundel County, taking most of that county's northern portion.

Also, under the House speaker's plan, Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, would pick up a greater share of Anne Arundel County and move out of the Montgomery County portion he would receive in the Senate plan.

Mr. Mitchell argued that his plan would have more regional integrity than the Senate plan. Howard County would be divided between two congressional districts under his plan, compared with three under the Senate plan. And Montgomery County would be split between two districts, rather than four ways as proposed in the Senate plan.

Mr. Mitchell, who came up with the new plan over the weekend in consultation with House leaders, said he did not have the time to contact all the House members.

He said he would review the plan today with committee chairmen and schedule a vote for tomorrow, when the House reconvenes.

Asked whether his plan can win approval, the House speaker said, "I can't understand why it would not."

Mr. Mitchell's compromise comes one week after the House and Senate passed competing plans and after he abruptly recessed the House until Oct. 21 when it could not reach agreement with the Senate.

Both plans drew Baltimore County lawmakers' ire because they both divided the county among five congressional districts.

On Monday the Senate came up with its own compromise, one that would put Mr. McMillen and Mr. Gilchrest in the same district. Baltimore County senators backed the plan because it would divide the county only three ways, but Eastern Shore and Anne Arundel senators criticized it.

The chief obstacle in the redistricting process has been which two congressmen should double up to achieve twin political necessities: the creation of a majority-black district in the Washington suburbs and a "safe seat" to protect Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, a congressional leader widely seen as the delegation's most important member.

Achieving these ends leaves seven congressmen vying for six seats.

Now, with the House speaker's compromise, the battle is between Anne Arundel County and the Eastern Shore, with the question being, which side should sacrifice voters to forge a district?

Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, chairman of the Senate redis

tricting committee, said that if Cecil County was added to the proposed McMillen-Gilchrest district, all districts -- and not just Mr. McMillen's -- should have population shifts.

But Mr. Mitchell brushed aside that suggestion, saying it would cause further divisions among other counties, particularly Montgomery and Howard.

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