Shared legislative districts are coming to the Baltimore metropolitan area -- if Gov. William Donald Schaefer heeds the recommendations of his Redistricting Advisory Committee. The ramifications could be far-reaching.
Seven districts in the area would be split between two jurisdictions. Five involve Baltimore City and Baltimore County, while Baltimore County would share a single district each with Howard and Harford counties. That would force 28 state legislators to start thinking in regional terms. No longer could these lawmakers operate only on a parochial level. That kind of small-minded political game-playing might mean defeat in the next election.
The governor's advisory panel acquitted itself far better in drawing General Assembly lines than in its disgraceful performance on congressional redistricting. After unveiling a preliminary version, the panel wisely listened to critics. What has emerged is a set of redistricting maps that seems to work fairly well.
Every part of the state will now use shared legislative districts. That is a logical step, since population movements -- and the problems that often follow -- tend to ignore artificial political boundaries. The panel tried to place similar communities together in shared districts. As the Baltimore metropolis
becomes more intertwined socially and economically, shared districts should pose less of a political concern. Problem-solving will have to be approached from a regional perspective.
Howard County fared far better this time around and now stands a chance of electing three state senators in 1994. County residents were assured of more equitable representation in the districts Howard would share with Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
In Baltimore County, Essex was reunited in a single district, the Towson area was made whole and Catonsville rather than Lansdowne/Baltimore Highlands would share a district with South Baltimore. Pikesville would remain split, though, with the western part in a more compact district that no longer extends into Howard County.
The most substantial modification occurred in Northeast Baltimore City's 43rd district that had been drawn to help Sen. John Pica by stretching it into the Towson area. No longer. It would once more be a city-only district, this time with a minority population of 61 percent. Blacks hold a majority of the population in five of the city's eight districts and also share a new heavily black district with Baltimore County.
Many of these moves were dictated by the federal Voting Rights Act to assure minority representation. Not all incumbents and communities are happy. That just isn't possible in a redistricting plan. But the panel has given the governor a workable set of maps that should satisfy the vast majority of the state's voters.