A Blow for Regionalism

March 06, 1992

Maryland's new legislative redistricting maps, unless overturned by the federal courts, mark a major step forward for regional problem-solving. The new boundaries not only tear down the invisible wall separating Baltimore City from Baltimore County but also retain a delicate political balance between Washington-oriented counties and Baltimore-oriented subdivisions.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer did an admirable job juggling the competing political interests always present in the redistricting process. He refused to use his map-making power to punish enemies and reward allies, or to gerrymander Republicans out of as many seats as possible. Instead, he decided to abide by his committee's recommendations to retain geographical balance in the districts and to think of the Baltimore and Washington areas as regions, not as individual counties.

Yet there was bound to be unhappiness. You can't please everyone in redistricting. Sure enough, as soon as the maps were on the books, a Republican-dominated group marched into court, calling the plan unfair to blacks, Baltimore County voters and to Republicans. Meanwhile, the state NAACP may join the court battle, arguing that the governor's plan dilutes black voting power by packing blacks into four majority-black districts in Prince George's County and five majority-black districts in the Baltimore area.

If the federal district court decides to intervene on behalf of either blacks or Republicans, we hope that one key element of the governor's redistricting plan is left undisturbed: the integration of majority-black Baltimore City with Baltimore County. For too long, city political districts remained exclusively inside Baltimore, never venturing into the county. But the governor had the courage to break down this barrier and to carve out five shared city-county districts that will force legislators, for the first time, to think in regional terms on issues.

Increasingly in the 1990s, we have found that parochial approaches to problems won't solve anything. Montgomery County's woes are also shared by Howard County and Harford County. Prince George's concerns are also Baltimore City's. Legislators need to search for regional solutions. The governor's redistricting maps will help lawmakers start thinking that way.

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