Shhh, the state politicians are plotting

April 09, 2001|By Carol A. Arscott and Patrick E. Gonzales

ANNAPOLIS -- There's hardly an issue that fascinates elected officials more than legislative redistricting, in which the hard reality of the decennial census bumps up against the vagaries of politics. It means intrigue.

The party in power does all it can to protect and expand its base while doing the maximum amount of harm to the party out of power, thereby determining the type of person it will be possible to elect from any given district. But sometimes, the political artists' reach exceeds their grasp. One example where the mapmakers went too far was in Maryland Senatorial District 13.

They made their first mistake after the 1980 census.

Legislative mapmakers who crafted District 13 tried to create a new control base for the Prince George's County delegation in Laurel. Power-perpetuating Democrats crafted a district with about 55 percent of its population in Prince George's and 45 percent in rapidly expanding Howard County.

A single-member district based in Columbia was conceded to Howard County while a cross-border two-member district encircled Greater Laurel.

But Prince George's County Democratic Party plans were dashed in the primary election, when Howard County's Tom Yeager beat the party's favorite for the nomination for state senator, and two more Howard countians won their primaries for the two-member House District.

What should have been an eighth district for Prince George's was completely in the hands of outsiders.

Matters were made worse in the 1990 election when two Republican newcomers, Martin Madden and John Morgan, beat the incumbent Democrats in the increasingly conservative two-member district, giving the Prince George's County delegation its first GOP members in recent memory.

The Democrats made their second mistake after the 1990 census.

Legislative line-drawers, in their fervor to punish Mr. Madden, drew new lines within District 13 that stripped him of every precinct he represented in his delegate district but his own. This time, the two-member district would be based in heavily Democratic Columbia and the single-member district in Laurel, with just a handful of voters from Howard County included within its boundaries.

Virginia Thomas, then-delegate from the Columbia-based single member district, challenged incumbent Senator Yeager in the Democratic primary. Seeing opportunity amid chaos, Mr. Madden announced that he'd also run for the Senate. And Mr. Morgan quietly moved across county lines into Laurel proper to make a charge at the new single-member district there.

Ms. Thomas beat Mr. Yeager, Mr. Yeager endorsed Mr. Madden in the general election, Mr. Madden beat Ms. Thomas, and Mr. Morgan captured the single-member seat. Prince George's now had a Republican senator in its delegation and a resident Republican delegate, a stunning development.

Now that the 2000 census numbers are in, legislative leaders are sharpening their knives to carve the state anew.

Mr. Madden, now Senate minority leader, could easily be drawn into the territory of his friend and fellow Republican, Christopher McCabe. But all the crafty tweaking can't obscure the fact that District 13 is 9.67 percent "over-populated" and that the situation is even worse in adjacent District 14 -- a whopping 24.02 percent over the population of an ideally sized district.

Can Democratic leaders make life difficult for Mr. Madden? Absolutely. Forcing incumbent Republicans into intra-party runoffs would be no easier anywhere than here.

But the question remains: Will the goal of vanquishing Mr. Madden constitute the mapmakers' third mistake in drawing District 13?

Carol Arscott and Patrick Gonzales are independent pollsters based in Annapolis.

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