Redistricting's Hidden Agendas

December 08, 1991|By C. FRASER SMITH | C. FRASER SMITH,Fraser Smith covers Maryland politics for The Sun.

They found out where John Morgan lives.

A Republican member of the House of Delegates from Howard County, Mr. Morgan declined to provide his address for the State Department of Planning. The information was requested as planners gathered basic information for the process known as legislative redistricting.

New election districts must be drawn every decade because the population grows and shifts.To bring it into conformity with the one-person, one-vote dictum of the U.S. Constitution, new lines must be draw. Every ten years, after the census figures are available, the map-making begins.

It is a process filled with fear and loathing. Balancing the population, politicians will tell you, is not the only purpose of redistricting. Others include:

* Payback, personal and partisan

Mr. Morgan's story may illustrate this aspect of redistricting. Each member of the General Assembly was asked during the last assembly session to stop by and put a little pin in a map. The planners wanted to be able to say, "We know where you live."

Some legislators, mostly Republicans like Mr. Morgan, hesitated. They wondered if they were aiding a political assassination -- their own. Surely this was paranoia.

But Mr. Morgan didn't think so. He didn't show up as requested.

But the mapmakers have their methods. When the Governor's Advisory Committee on Redistricting released its proposed new election district map last Monday, Mr. Morgan found himself in a hook-shaped appendage to district 13A. Under the proposal, he would run for re-election in 1994, in a district which is almost entirely in Prince George's County and does not include Elkridge, where he gathered many votes during the last election. Had the very tip of the district stopped a few houses short of Mr. Morgan, he would still be campaigning in friendly turf.

"There was a target list," says Kevin Igoe, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. "Most of the elected officials in Howard County are Republicans, and they're pretty aggressive young guys."

The redistricting advisory committee was made up mostly of Democrats, who have observed quite accurately that the state's geography, population shifts, federal law and certain other policy considerations meant that some legislators, Democrats and Republicans alike (even some groups of voters), would be unhappy with the new map.

Delegate Morgan, a scientist employed at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, was not the only legislator politically orphaned by the map-makers. His partner, Del. Martin G. Madden, also a Republican from Howard, kept only one of the 23 precincts he currently represents.

Mr. Madden's new district is currently represented by Republicans Robert Flanagan and Robert Kittleman. The calculus of redistricting is not so obscure. If three Republicans run against each other for two seats, the result will be one fewer Republican.

"They've got me between a rock, a hard place, a frying pan and a fire," Mr. Madden said.

He and Mr. Morgan might move.

So might Senator Janice Piccinini, D-Baltimore County, whose house, east of Route I-83, was drawn out of the area she recently won in, defeating one of the assembly's veteran insiders, Frank Kelly. Ms. Piccinini calls the new map "outrageous."

Others who might think of moving are Delegates Delores Kelly, D-Baltimore; Gerry Brewster, D-Baltimore County; and Senator Julian L. Lapides, D-Baltimore, all of whom find themselves in districts more or less obliterated by the map makers.

Delegate Kittleman wryly suggests the mapmakers were infiltrated by the house-moving industry. Under state law, a candidate for the house or senate must actually live in the district he or she wants to represent for at least six months. (The requirement does not exist in the U.S. Constitution, so U.S. representatives need not live in the district they run in.)

These dislocations have an inescapable though probably unintended anti-incumbency flavor about them. And, as Senator Lapides suggests, legislators know from the start of this process that they could be inconvenienced.

Many who feel so victimized suggest that they are less concerned about the impact on them personally than they are about the Balkanization of their counties and districts. Which leads to another of the purposes of redistricting in 1991:

* Regionalization

This year, Gov. William Donald Schaefer made clear his hope that the new district map for the Baltimore region would include a concept already in force elsewhere in Maryland: many of the state's 47 senatorial districts are shared by governmental subdivisions and the people who live in them. The purpose of regionalization in the Baltimore area is to shore up the sagging political fortunes of the city.

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