Districting complaints unleashed NAACP, legislators cry foul at hearing

December 11, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Official and unofficial witnesses leveled a barrage of charges last night at a proposed new map of legislative districts for Maryland -- calling it divisive, anti-democratic and probably in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

At a public hearing here, state Sen. Decatur W. Trotter, D-Prince George's, accused the Governor's Advisory Committee on Redistricting of conducting a "Rommel-like retreat from the obligation for power sharing and authority" in his county. He referred to the German general, Erwin Rommel, who led the famed retreat from British forces in North Africa during World War II.

Mr. Trotter said the committee, which released its controversial proposal last week, "packed" black voters into three Prince George's County districts and dispersed the remaining blacks among four other districts.

"Why was this done?" he asked. "Was it done to maintain a white incumbent Democrat senator at the expense of the minority community's chances of electing a senator?"

One member of the advisory committee is Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, the Democratic Party leader in that county.

Later, two representatives of the national office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said Maryland should have far more voting rights districts -- districts in which minority voters comprise 65 percent or so black voters. Some 35 minority districts could be drawn for the House of Delegates, they said, and five more Senate districts.

"The gap between the potential and what this committee is proposing is one of the widest we've seen," said Samuel L. Walters, the organization's assistant general counsel. Only Louisiana has attempted to pass a plan similarly deficient in regard to the Voting Rights Act, he said.

Mr. Walters and Clifford J. Collins, director of the NAACP's voter education department, suggested the committee's proposal almost certainly would be taken to court if not altered. "They may think we're bluffing," Mr. Walters said. "They may think we'll make a lot of noise and go away."

Their complaints and Senator Trotter's were voiced also by the Maryland Republican Party and by the League of Women Voters. Representatives of both asked whether the advisory committee had created as many minority districts as it could have and as the law -- by their reading of it -- may require.

Senator Trotter, the GOP spokesmen and others from many parts of the state came to last night's hearing armed with maps illustrating for the five-member committee how it might redraw the district boundaries to make them fairer.

The committee, which has continued to consider suggestions about its proposed map, has said it may make some adjustments to its proposal before its final recommendation to the governor.

State Sen. Janice Piccinini, D-Baltimore County, said she understands the map already has been significantly revised -- with the direct involvement of the governor.

The Maryland Republican Party suggested the committee may have to revise its proposal so that the populations of the districts are closer in size. In several cases, the GOP said, differences between district populations exceed 10 percent and in one case reach almost 14 percent. Such variances may violate the one-man, one-vote requirements of the U.S. Constitution.

Judging by protest signs carried outside the hearing yesterday by some of the prospective witnesses, Gov. William Donald Schaefer is already being held responsible for the map -- particularly by residents of Baltimore County. The committee's proposal would have the county and Baltimore City sharing six legislative districts -- four to be controlled by the city and two by the county.

"Dundalk Says No," declared one sign. "This Plan Steals County Voters," said another. "What Next?" asked a third, "City Taxes?" Some county residents have suggested that the shared districts may result in shared school systems and a uniform tax structure.

While the committee and Governor Schaefer have said creating a pattern of regionalism was one of the goals of the redistricting process, Delegate Thomas E. Dewberry, D-Baltimore County, predicted a contrary result.

"This map," he said, "will create resentment."

Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, said the heavily Jewish precincts of Pikesville, which she represents, are being apportioned among three districts. "We have fought too long," ,, she said, "for a single stroke of the pen to wipe out representation for this ethnic group."

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden said Baltimore Countians have no objection to regionalism, but "they resent anyone telling them what their relationship to the city should be."

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