ANNAPOLIS -- Deadlock turned to deadline on congressional redistricting yesterday as House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, said he would end the special legislative session Monday night unless a compromise is reached.
Mr. Mitchell, irritated after nearly four weeks of haggling, said he would favor sending competing House and Senate redistricting plans to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who could then choose one of them.
Mr. Schaefer said later at a hastily called news conference that he would be willing to do that and was leaning toward the House-passed version. The governor also said that if no plan ended up on his desk, the state would ask a federal court to draw the new map.
"It's time for the legislature to come to a conclusion," the governor said. "We don't look exactly the best in the world."
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, dismissed the notion of turning the decision over to the governor, saying the legislature has the responsibility to complete the once-a-decade process.
Six legislators -- three delegates and three senators -- named to a conference committee on the issue, are expected to continue meetings until the legislature reconvenes Monday at 5 p.m.
"This is very unfortunate," Mr. Mitchell told the House. "Every time we get close the Senate wants to add another amendment."
"I think the House would have adjourned three weeks ago if they could have," Mr. Miller told the Senate. Sarcastically referring to a golf tournament held by the speaker during the session, he said, "While they were playing, we were working."
Both houses have passed redistricting plans that would place Representatives Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, and Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, in the same district.
The plans differ over the treatment of Cecil County. The Senate measure would split Cecil County from the Eastern Shore and make it part of a district for Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd. As a result, Mr. McMillen's home county of Anne Arundel, rather than the Eastern Shore now represented by Mr. Gilchrest, would have the bulk of the district's population.
The House plan would leave Cecil County as part of the Shore, a move that would shift the majority of the district's population to the Shore. Mr. Mitchell and other Shore lawmakers hope to give their region the population advantage to elect one of their own.
But the strongly partisan Mr. Miller wants to help Mr. McMillen, his fellow Democrat, and has criticized attempts at "propping up" Mr. Gilchrest by the Speaker and the governor.
"I don't think the governor's interests are that far from the Republican Party when it comes to congressional redistricting," Mr. Miller said.
The House and Senate conferees were close to an agreement Thursday night when the process fell apart. There was a proposal by Mr. Mitchell to grant Mr. McMillen some 39,000 residents in South Baltimore, now located in the district of Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, to shore up Mr. McMillen's Democratic turf.
But there were changes suggested to that proposal, shifts in precincts by Mr. Cardin and Sen. Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltimore. "They nit-picked it to death," Mr. Mitchell said yesterday.