Redistricting: win, lose, and (re)draw

Blood sport: The political mapmakers will make and break some legislative futures.

April 30, 2000|By Arthur W. Murphy

REDISTRICTING happens every 10 years -- the World Series can't touch it and the Super Bowl is child's play compared to it.

Preparations for this long-awaited and feared process are in the final stages. The areas that have grown get more clout and the ones that have shrunk will get less. Meanwhile, the powerful have already made up lists of friends and enemies, and they will carve safe districts for their friends and bad districts where their enemies will face the possibility of getting thrown out of office.

Predicting anything in politics is risky. But I'd like to go out on a limb by making several predictions about how redistricting might change the political landscape in Baltimore.

The most dramatic change will be the loss of one and maybe two senate districts.

The most likely target for elimination is Clarence Mitchell IV's 44th District.

Mitchell is one of the new kids on the block and is not known by his colleagues as a team player. He also has the distinction of winning his senate seat with one of the lowest vote totals in the state. Because his base is relatively small, whoever's district he ends up in should not have a problem defeating him in a head-to-head senate race.

By eliminating Mitchell's district, legislators will also avoid an even uglier fight if they attempted to target someone else.

For example, Sen. Clarence Blount is respected, well liked and too powerful to annoy.

Sens. Ralph Hughes , Joan Carter Conway, Perry Sfikas, and Nathaniel McFadden are enormously popular with voters and have hefty campaign war chests.

Mitchell, because of geography and the predictable political machinations of the House Appropriations Committee chair Delegate Pete Rawlings, will probably end up in Sen. Ralph Hughes' district.

Rawlings and Hughes, former bosom buddies and teammates, are not friendly any more. Rawlings would like nothing more than to give his rival a tougher than normal primary election fight.

To further reduce Baltimore's delegation, legislators will modify the districts that are shared with Baltimore County.

First, they will move the entire 10th District, represented by Sen. Delores Kelley, into the county. Kelley and fellow Democrat, Sen. Paula Hollinger of the 11th District, will fight over where to draw the lines. Hollinger is concerned about the increased Republican leanings in her district and wants to keep the Democratic voting precincts that Sen. Kelley covets.

Second, line-drawers will merge George Della's 47th District with Perry Sfikas' 46th District and make it a city-only district.

Della and Sfikas will put up token resistance but will wilt under the pressure of Sens. Blount and Hoffman. I predict that Della will not seek re-election rather than fight an expensive war with Sfikas.

What about Baltimore's shadow mayor, Sen. Barbara Hoffman, chairman of the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee?

I predict there will be only minor numeric adjustments to her district. Whatever Barbara wants, Barbara gets.

Overall, the winners will be Blount, Conway, Sfikas, Hughes, McFadden, and Hoffman. The losers will be Mitchell and Della. The real surprise is that Baltimore County probably won't gain or lose much of anything in the redistricting.

Even though the county's population has grown, it has not grown enough to counter suburban Washington, where the population has skyrocketed.

The balance of the redistricting fight will be over a Democratic Party move to prevent any increase in the number of Republican representatives in the House of Delegates and the Senate. Depending on how creative the Democratic strategists are, this element of the redistricting battle is the most likely to end up in the courts.

Montgomery and Prince George's counties will be redistricting winners and will probably share one, maybe two, new delegate seats.

Their conflict will be over whether one or two districts will be minority-controlled. It is unlikely that this will become a public fight. They will meet privately, make a deal and a compromise map will appear.

Cecil, Harford and Carroll counties will share a new delegate seat that will likely go Republican in the next gubernatorial election. Frederick County will also gain a Republican delegate seat at the expense of its Western Maryland neighbors.

Democrats will try their best to be creative in fashioning a district but after long hours of analysis, they'll give up.

There will be no change on the Eastern Shore. I predict there will be some weak, veiled and unsuccessful attempts to eliminate or modify the new court-ordered minority district.

I predict that Republicans will reap the greatest benefit from the 2000 redistricting. They will pick up additional seats on the Eastern Shore, Frederick, Carroll and Harford counties and, if Democratic line drawers are careless, one from Montgomery and Baltimore counties.

Maryland is growing and is growing conservative.

I also predict that Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper Taylor will travel the entire state and hold public hearings.

They will be accompanied by an entourage of planning bureaucrats, cartographers and statisticians. They will listen patiently to complaints, criticisms, yelling and more. They will both nod, knowing that their redistricting plans will pass the House and Senate effortlessly.

Arthur W. Murphy is a Baltimore political consultant. The upcoming redistricting battle will mark the fourth he has either observed or participated in.

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