Redistricting and Regionalism

January 11, 1992

The concept of regional representation triumphed in the final redistricting plan submitted to the legislature by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Legislators in five districts will represent both Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Baltimore County will also share districts with both Harford County and Howard County. The days of parochial, narrow-minded legislators are numbered.

No longer can Baltimore County lawmakers ignore the city's plight and focus only on their own exclusionary concerns. Any legislator in these districts who engages in city-bashing risks the ultimate voter retribution -- defeat. The same holds true for legislators in shared Baltimore County districts who ignore the concerns of Howard or Harford. Parochialism could prove costly.

Mr. Schaefer did a good job balancing conflicting interests. He limited his partisan map-making and tried to treat jurisdictions fairly. He also made a concerted effort to meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act to give minorities fair treatment.

Five of the eight city district are majority-black. The city also will share a minority legislative district with Baltimore County. In Prince George's County, there will be four majority-black districts, plus another 45-percent minority district and a 42-percent minority two-member House district.

Still, a number of black leaders may seek Justice Department intervention. Although the plan creates 27 districts favorable to black delegate candidates and nine for black senators, these leaders want much more: 39 delegate districts and 12 black Senate districts. Currently, there are 21 black delegates and seven black senators.

Mr. Schaefer's plan was approved by the state attorney general's office. But there are conflicts only the courts can decide. Examples: Did the governor err by "packing" blacks into a minority district, thus diluting black strength in neighboring districts? Or is "packing" permissible?

Republicans, especially in Howard County, are also incensed. While Howard countians won their fight to have Ellicott City restored to one district, the governor merged a Republican rural delegate district into a Democratic Columbia stronghold. Yet the governor resisted even more partisan maps proffered by Howard County Democratic leaders.

Before opponents start marching into court, they have until Feb. 21 to persuade the General Assembly to alter the governor's redistricting plan. There are plenty of disgruntled lawmakers, but putting together a coalition will be difficult in so short a time, especially since top Assembly leaders favor the governor's plan.

Redistricting is inherently political and divisive. Pleasing everyone is impossible. Some incumbents are thrown into new districts, others lose key bases of support. But that is part of the ebb and flow of electoral politics. What is new, for the Baltimore area, is the emergence of metropolitan districts. It is a good development for the region -- even if some selfish politicians find it distasteful.

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