Redistricting: Time to Bend

October 04, 1991

It is time for the General Assembly to complete work on new congressional maps by compromising the final differences so legislators can turn their attention to far more urgent business -- the state's horrendous deficit.

Redistricting is inherently political. But it has gotten out of hand in the General Assembly. House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller have acted like old-time political bosses intent on drawing new congressional boundaries to suit their own self-interests. Neither strongman wants to bend. It has become a test of wills, and egos, that is an embarrassment to the entire legislature.

Yet the gap is so narrow that finding a solution ought to be easy. Mr. Miller favors a 1st Congressional District that includes all of the Eastern Shore except Cecil County and a big chunk of Anne Arundel County, the shore's western neighbor across the Chesapeake. Mr. Mitchell is willing to create an Eastern Shore-Arundel district, but only if Cecil County is part of the equation.

From the Senate president's position, a bigger chunk of Anne Arundel in the 1st would enhance the re-election chances of Democrat Tom McMillen. And for Mr. Miller, few things are more important than buttressing the Democratic Party. From the House speaker's point of view, splitting Cecil from the 1st would divide his beloved Eastern Shore. And for Mr. Mitchell, keeping the shore intact is of paramount concern -- perhaps his only true concern -- in the redistricting battle.

But in politics, there is a time to stand and a time to bend. Now is the moment for both leaders to show flexibility. The most rural parts of Cecil, below the C&D Canal or Elk River, could remain in the 1st District while also adding Arundel voters to assuage Mr. McMillen. The northern part of Cecil would be attached to a district that includes Harford and Baltimore counties -- a natural partnership given the growing links between northern Cecil and metropolitan Baltimore.

Legislators have before them a redistricting plan that satisfies most constituencies. It maintains regional identities, treats the Baltimore and Washington areas equitably, respects political boundaries and tries to place communities with common interests together. Messrs. Miller and Mitchell should split their differences and be done with it. If the two leaders cannot agree on an issue as modest as redistricting, how are they every going to resolve Maryland's massive budget crisis?

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