Redistricting issue pales as legislature convenes Schaefer to offer his plan today

January 08, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- The political body-snatching process known as redistricting -- a scramble for reliable voters on familiar turf -- continues today but could be losing some of its urgency as the Maryland General Assembly convenes for its 1992 session.

Relying on the impassioned testimony of citizens at public hearings and the even more desperate pleas of the legislators, Gov. William Donald Schaefer has prepared a new election map for the state and will file it as legislation today. If the legislature doesn't change it within 45 days, it becomes law.

While many legislators are satisfied with the governor's work, others feel sorely wounded by dislocation from their constituents. Some were pleading with the governor even yesterday to give -- or take -- a neighborhood here or a precinct there to improve their chances of staying in office.

Some officials and organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, promise to take the map to court if it doesn't contain substantial changes, particularly in Prince George's County, where they say it puts minorities at a disadvantage.

While the lobbying continues, redistricting seems unlikely to dominate the session as some legislators and the governor had feared. Instead, many legislators are resigned to the map.

Some even offer a little gallows humor. "The next time you speak to me," said Sen. Nancy L. Murphy, D-Baltimore County, "my office will be located in Pittsburgh."

Though she won't really be in Pennsylvania, the changes in her district will be jarring. If the governor's map is adopted, Senator Murphy would run for re-election with about half of her Baltimore County base gone and 45,000 new Howard County constituents.

She said making changes in the governor's plan now will be "next to impossible" because Mr. Schaefer has met enough of the major objections to the plan to ensure a majority in the legislature.

"Everybody wants a little something changed," she said, "but I don't think people are so upset that they are willing to vote against this plan."

Others are equally vexed.

Asked how she stands, the diminutive Baltimore County senator, Paula C. Hollinger, said, "I stand short -- in every way."

Though she said Governor Schaefer made an effort to help her, adding and subtracting a few precincts at her request, population changes in the Baltimore region have left her in a district with only about 25,000 of the old voters who elected her in 1990 without opposition.

How much the governor helped her, or how much she was really hurt in the first place, awaits further analysis, but Senator Hollinger said she is more-or-less resigned to her fate.

Though some legislators had expected the governor to extract political promises in exchange for an improvements in the map, several said Mr. Schaefer made no such requests -- though he was armed with a history of the supplicants' record of support for Schaefer administration proposals.

"I told him I had lost the heart of my base -- including a precinct only a block from my house," Senator Hollinger said.

She told the former mayor of Baltimore: "It would have been like you running for governor without Baltimore City as your base."

Senators Hollinger and Murphy were among the legislators who got the worst of it during the map-drawing process. As aggrieved as they were, though, they did not think the Schaefer map will be changed much by the legislature.

Mr. Schaefer might accept "friendly" amendments that do not have a domino effect. But legislative leaders would probably resist individual appeals for fear of inviting a wholesale change.

Some will not be deterred, however.

"If there's one chance in a thousand, I'll try," said Delegate Martin G. Madden, R-Howard. "You have to keep batting until you take your last strike." The governor's map chops Mr. Madden's current district in half.

In recent days, he has enlisted Governor Schaefer's friend, Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, to argue his case. He also recruited a county executive, a former judge who has the governor's ear and a Democratic delegate from Prince George's County -- all of whom asked Mr. Schaefer to help their friend. And all to no avail so far.

Pamela J. Kelly, an aide to the governor, said the Schaefer plan leaves intact most of the proposal made by his special advisory commission on redistricting. Most of the changes he made were in the Baltimore region, she said.

But changes were needed in Prince George's County to make the plan conform to the Voting Rights Act of 1982, according to Sen. Decatur W. Trotter, D-Prince George's.

"We think the governor's plan is just inadequate. It does not satisfy the equal protection or one man, one vote law," Mr. Trotter said. He said he believed Mr. Schaefer could make changes to his plan any time during the first 45 days of the session.

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