More Redistricting Headaches Political Potboiler

October 28, 1991

If you thought the bloodletting over new congressional boundaries was messy, wait until officials in Annapolis start revamping Maryland's General Assembly districts. Self-preservation is foremost on the minds of most legislators but conflicting interests already are producing some testy showdowns (see editorial below).

Unlike his secondary role in congressional map-making, Gov. William Donald Schaefer has the pivotal role in legislative redistricting. This is the governor's opportunity to exert maximum political leverage with members of the General Assembly. The district lines he proposes for the 141 House seats and the 47 Senate seats cannot be challenged unless both the House and the Senate agree on an amended plan within 45 days after the governor submits his maps next January. Such an agreement will be difficult to achieve.

Local delegations are now drafting their own plans for the governor's advisory committee on redistricting, a panel dominated by House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. The group has little time to meld various plans together: it is scheduled to present a redistricting map for public consideration in just three weeks and to give the governor its recommendations in mid-December. Mr. Schaefer then has a month to make his final choices.

Retaining geographic equity is paramount. Each region ought to be treated fairly. Subdistricts designed to accommodate minority groups have to be handled with great care and sensitivity to avoid political manipulation or exclusion. Shared districts should viewed as essential elements in every region -- including metropolitan Baltimore. Our social problems are regional in nature and our legislators ought to be forced to view these concerns in regional terms. What better way than to create overlapping legislative districts that encompass more than one jurisdiction?

Governor Schaefer has long been an ardent proponent of regionalism. One method for overcoming county insensitivity to Baltimore City's problems is to form new districts that are part in the city and part in the county. Not only would this force legislators to take broader perspectives on issues, it would strengthen both the city's and the county's voting power in Annapolis.

We urge Mr. Schaefer to use this opportunity to strike a blow for metropolitan cooperation and to improve his hand with lawmakers. The governor faces agonizing decisions in coming months on downsizing government and erasing a still-huge deficit. He needs friends in the legislature. His clout in drawing General Assembly boundaries could make him a most popular (( fellow.

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