GOP welcomes Duncan's idea for subdistricts

The Political Game

Plans: The Montgomery Democrat's proposal to increase minority representation seems to blend with one by the Republicans' for single-member districts.

September 11, 2001|By Michael Dresser and Jeff Barker | Michael Dresser and Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

MONTGOMERY County Executive Douglas M. Duncan stepped into a political minefield last week when he urged the governor's redistricting commission to draw single-member districts to make it easier for minorities in his increasingly diverse jurisdiction to win seats in the House of Delegates.

The Democratic executive's proposal was an issue because it seemed to echo the state Republican Party's drive for three single-member subdistricts in each of the state's 47 Senate districts. Michael A. Steele, state GOP chairman, presented his party's proposal for 141 individual districts statewide as a way to increase minority representation in the legislature. The governor and General Assembly must redraw district lines next year to reflect population figures gathered in the 2000 census.

Duncan's suggestion was welcomed by Republicans, who played up the news on the party Web site.

The GOP is attempting to create a public groundswell in support of single-member districts as a way of enhancing their prospects in the House. Democrats control the chamber by a 106-35 margin.

Republicans say they recognize there is no chance that Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the Assembly will buy into their plan, but they are using it to drive a wedge between Democratic leadership and African-Americans focused on increasing their numbers in the legislature. GOP leaders also hope that judges will look favorably on their map if they can persuade the courts to throw out a Democratic redistricting plan in an all-but-inevitable court challenge.

Duncan said he's not joining the statewide GOP crusade or even calling for single-member districts throughout his county. But he wants the commission to recommend subdistricts in areas where they could make it easier for minorities to be elected to the House. "The elected officials should reflect the population of the county," Duncan said.

Three-member House districts are the norm in Maryland, but the law also permits single-member and two-member districts.

In theory, subdistricts are used to assure that certain geographical areas can elect their resident delegates. But they are generally used where they advance the interests of the party in power.

Steele's plan is opposed by Democrats because it would throw many incumbents - most of them Democrats - into subdistricts that could force them to run against each other. At the same time, it would create other districts with no incumbents, opening up opportunities for Republicans.

Montgomery has experienced significant growth in its Asian, African-American and Hispanic populations and is about 60 percent white. But increasing minority representation is a challenge because the county is relatively integrated and its delegation includes many popular white incumbents.

The eight senators are white. Of 24 delegates, 23 are white, and one is Asian-American. Six in the delegation are Republicans.

Duncan said census figures put the population at 15 percent African-American, 12 percent Asian-American and 12 percent Hispanic. He noted the Silver Spring-Wheaton and Rockville-Gaithersburg as areas with a concentration of minority voters.

Delegate Rawlings begins chemotherapy treatments

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, one of the General Assembly's busiest and most powerful members, says he has begun undergoing chemotherapy for a 3-year-old cancer.

The Baltimore Democrat, 64, began the treatments a month ago. He said the therapy won't curtail his efforts on behalf of his signature issues, including legalizing slot machines to generate money for schools and libraries, and preserving black incumbents in the redistricting process.

"I am paring my schedule somewhat, but I am functioning," Rawlings said yesterday. "I expect to be fully engaged during the [legislative] session. Let me point out that I've had this for three years and have had five operations and haven't missed a beat."

This week, he'll attend a planning meeting for the legislative session, which begins in January.

His 27-member committee oversees bills relating to operating and capital budgets, playing a key role in such areas as economic development and transportation.

Rawlings wouldn't specify the nature of the cancer. "I've probably said too much already," he said.

He said the chemotherapy "shouldn't take that long." The follow-ups are going well," he said.

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