Another Senate district? No thanks Balto. Co. and Montgomery yearn for status quo, safety.

February 10, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith

ANNAPOLIS -- Overcome by an uncommon surge of political generosity and fairness, legislators from Baltimore and Montgomery counties are trying to give away some of their power.

As if suddenly overtaken by the truth of Lord Acton's suggestion that power corrupts, Baltimore County's senators and delegates want to shift voting strength to Montgomery and Howard counties.

Perhaps even more remarkable, Montgomery is saying, in effect, "Never mind."

Legislation sponsored by the Baltimore County delegation would transfer an entire senatorial district -- ceded to the Baltimore region during redistricting -- to Montgomery and Howard counties.

Without the extra district, incumbent legislators can draw district lines more favorable to their re-election and to the wishes of their somewhat insular constituents.

Similarly, the proposed gift has unwanted consequences for the intended recipients.

A new senatorial district could wreak as much havoc in Montgomery's district map as it has in Baltimore County's -- and Montgomery's representatives show no interest in taking what they may deserve.

The case of the unwanted senator arose when Gov. William Donald Schaefer and members of his Redistricting Advisory Committee arranged to give the Baltimore region 15 senatorial districts -- eight for the city, seven for the county.

The population of the city and county, taken independently, might have justified only 14.

But taken as a region, with a bit of Harford County thrown in, there were enough voters to justify 15 senators.

The governor's thinking resulted in a rare gift of power for issues of importance to Baltimore-area constituents, but the Baltimore County representatives want none of it.

Besides the added senator, the governor's map proposed five overlapping city-county districts.

Del. E. Farrell Maddox, the affable county leader, insists without missing a beat that fairness inclines him to send the extra senator to Montgomery and Howard.

"Let's put the representatives where the population is," added Del. Richard Rynd, D-Balto. Co., during a hearing last week.

But others say this legislation has a different objective.

To some, regionalism has meant sharing the city's problems -- its crime, its poverty, and its underfunded schools. The legislation would grant county lawmakers a divorce in the forced marriage to the city of Baltimore.

Baltimore County's bills would eliminate all but one of the shared districts, crafting new ones wholly situated in the county.

The bills' sponsors say the interests of their constituents were their only concerns.

Others say redistricting is such an obscure project that constituents care only as much as legislators want them to care.

"Redistricting is really something that affects us and only us," one legislator said.

But the debate has occurred under the heading of good government.

"We've been . . . pro-Baltimore City," says Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Balto. Co. "Regionalism doesn't come from drawing lines. Regionalism comes from the heart."

Mr. Bromwell and Mr. Maddox may be running into difficulty in their quest to give up a senator.

Montgomery County -- almost always suspicious of the Baltimore area's power over matters of money and influence -- now finds it may not have room for another senatorial district.

Relatively happy with the districts drawn for them by the governor -- and with the approval of their representatives -- Montgomery's senators and delegates have been almost completely silent on the issue of fairness in redistricting. The population numbers may, indeed, argue for an additional Montgomery district.

"They have an opportunity for an additional senatorial district and they're sitting on their hands. It's an incumbent-protection strategy," says Del. Robert L. Flanagan, R-Howard.

"It's pretty gross when your county could have an additional Senate seat for 10 years," Mr. Flanagan said.

Mr. Flanagan says his colleagues in Howard -- less happy with their redistricting lot -- might support the Baltimore County bill. But no decision has been made.

The decision may be irrelevant.

House and Senate leadership have indicated little interest in opening a fractious battle over redistricting when serious budget matters are unresolved. That leadership has suggested it will try to derail any effort to change the governor's map -- which becomes law Feb. 21, the session's 45th day, without a vote. So the Baltimore County bills could be dead even now.

If the Maddox-Bromwell plan is not acted upon, it still could represent an important step for them, Mr. Maddox says. The idea is to create a record for presentation to the federal courts in a suit contesting the constitutionality of the plan.

Such a case would contend that the governor's plan is unconstitutional because it does not apportion representation according to the one-person, one-vote requirements of federal law.

Similar court action is being prepared by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored

People.

The NAACP contends that the plan fails to meet the law's requirement because it cracks or packs groups of minority voters, robbing them of the ability to elect senators and delegates.

In a sense, the regionalizing of problems so worrisome to some in the county already exists, says Del. Leslie Hutchinson, D-Balto. Co.

"It would be real easy to govern if I didn't look left or right on my way down Eastern Avenue," she says. If she does look, she said, "I see need -- need in the city, need in the county."

Homelessness, delinquency and other difficult social problems occur in every jurisdiction. The city and the county need each other, she says.

In the end, she says, "We all live in the same state."

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