A few precincts and a lot of stubbornness appear to be standing in the way of settling Maryland's 2-week-old battle over congressional redistricting.
The issue is now in the hands of the legislature's two top leaders, who are at a standoff. With the General Assembly convening today to deal with the state's budget woes, many legislators were hoping the two could work out a redistricting deal, too.
The latest development came this week when House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. developed a new plan designed to meet some objections from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
The plan, according to sources, included a major concession from Mitchell -- splitting part of Cecil County from the district that includes the rest of Mitchell's native Eastern Shore.
The plan has the blessing of Gov. William Donald Schaefer. It also may have some Senate support: Last Friday, a similar plan for splitting Cecil County was being considered by members of the Senate's redistricting committee.
But the usually talkative Miller has so far made no public comment on Mitchell's plan to split Cecil.
In fact, Miller's chief aide says Mitchell had offered a plan, but it did not include a major concession regarding Cecil. "The [Senate] president has not received anything like that," John R. Stierhoff says.
Instead, Miller has publicly criticized Mitchell for refusing to appoint a House-Senate conference committee to work on a compromise.
But several observers say a conference committee -- made up of three senators and three delegates -- would accomplish nothing until the two presiding officers find common ground.
"It's a false issue," says one Schaefer administration source.
It's not clear why the two men can't reach agreement, since the issues that divide them appear to be small.
But the two have been fighting ever since Mitchell and two other members of the governor's redistricting commission overturned a plan that Miller had supported. Miller, who was on a working vacation in Ireland at the time, returned in a rage.
Since then, the House and Senate have gone in different directions on the issue. And the last week has been spent wrangling over the massive budget cuts proposed by Schaefer.
Miller's goal has been to help carve out a favorable district for Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, who lives in Anne Arundel County.
Under plans adopted by both the House and Senate, McMillen would be lumped into a district that takes in most of Anne Arundel County as well as the Eastern Shore, forcing him to run against Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st, a Shore native.
The plans differ in their treatment of Cecil. The House plan would keep Cecil in the Eastern Shore district. The Senate plan would put Cecil in a district that includes most of Baltimore County and all of Harford. Resolving the conflict revolves around what happens to Cecil County and its population of 71,000.
In all, the legislature must draw boundaries for eight congressional districts. Democrats, who are the majority in the legislature, have agreed to create a mostly black district in Prince George's County and move the white incumbent from that area, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, to a district based in Southern Maryland. That leaves seven other incumbents to be squeezed into six districts.
The legislature assembled in Annapolis Sept. 25 for what many thought would be a one-day session. The issue has now dragged on into its third week.
"If you want a winner or loser in this mess, I don't think you find one," says one legislator.