The new districts

October 24, 1991

Anne Arundel County lawmakers have a legitimate complaint: The final congressional redistricting plan does split their county among four representatives, and it does throw together into a new district people who were previously unallied and fail to perceive common interests. But it is important to remember that Baltimore Countians had the very same complaint after the General Assembly passed its first redistricting plan.

From the start, however, demographics mandated a new minority district in the Washington suburbs, and regardless of which plan the state ended up adopting, the old geographical lines were going to have to change -- putting previously disparate communities together -- and one of the current representatives would have to be displaced.

The central question has always been whether partisanship would control the outcome. The Democrats initially proffered a plan that pitted Republican Helen Bentley against Republican Wayne Gilchrest. But they couldn't stick together to push it through. The Democratic governor, a Bentley ally, threatened to veto the proposal. And Democratic House Speaker Clayton Mitchell refused to consider seriously any plan that cut even a sliver off the Eastern Shore. In the end, faced with the threat of institutional failure, Senate President Mike Miller, the staunchest partisan on the redistricting committee, capitulated to the so-called compromise -- a reconfiguration that keeps Bentley safe and keeps the entire Eastern Shore in the 1st District.

Tom McMillen -- the disposable Democrat, newest and least influential in the delegation -- got the short end of the stick. More than half of his new district is territory where he has never run before. Still, McMillen's moderate voting record (support of the gulf war, for instance, and his opposition to gun control) may still make him a strong contender for Gilchrest's seat. The greatest irony, however, is that Democrat Steny Hoyer -- so valued that his re-election was a stated goal among committee members -- is now vulnerable. The portions of Anne Arundel County in his new district tend to be more Republican than Democratic; nor are Calvert and Charles counties reliable bases of support.

Nonetheless, it is finished. Despite the predictable grumblings, the fact remains that the quality of representation ultimately depends far more on Marylanders' exercising their right to cast an informed vote than it does on arbitrary geographical lines.

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