GOP districts stop at city line

Redistricting plan would end sharing of legislators with county

Cut in representation

September 15, 2001|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Republican Party is proposing a redistricting plan that would sharply cut Baltimore's representation in Annapolis - from 10 Senate districts to six - all contained strictly within city lines and all with African-American majorities.

The Republicans are calling it an attempt to maximize minority representation. Democrats are calling it "segregation."

The plan, which the GOP is preparing to present to the governor's redistricting commission, contrasts sharply with other proposals that seek to preserve the city's political power in the face of significant population losses. There are now 10 state senators whose districts lie wholly or partly in Baltimore.

The Republican plan stands no chance of adoption by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who must propose a plan on the opening day of the legislative session in January, and by the Democratic-dominated General Assembly, which will have 45 days to approve that plan or substitute one of its own.

But GOP leaders, who expect Glendening to draw lines for maximum partisan advantage, are threatening to challenge any Democratic-drawn plan in court and to advance their proposed map as an alternative. "The courts will look favorably upon it," said state Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele.

Herbert C. Smith, a political science professor at Western Maryland College, said that normally the courts shy away from "the political thicket" of redistricting. But he noted that Republican challenges to Democratic redistricting plans have been successful in some Southern states and that the success of the GOP plan could depend on which federal judge is assigned to the case.

The final decision on Maryland's once-a-decade redistricting could be made in the conservative 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., or in the Supreme Court.

Democratic leaders are denouncing the Republican proposal as a plan to disenfranchise African-Americans. "It is mean-spirited. It is divisive, and it's a Republican Party dirty trick to pack minorities into as small a population as possible," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat.

Smith, a leading expert on Maryland politics, was no less harsh in his judgment, calling the plan "political Balkanization" and "inappropriate."

State GOP leader Steele, an African-American from Prince George's County, said the city's power would not be diminished if its lawmakers represent their constituents effectively. "There are winners and losers in everything," he said.

"They've lost over 100,000 people in the city. You can't maintain the same level of representation," he said. "It's unfair to those jurisdictions that have gained in population."

Baltimore's population has declined by 84,860 - to 651,154 - between the 1990 and 2000 censuses, continuing a slide that has been going on for decades.

In the 1970s, Baltimore had 11 senators - all in districts within city lines. In the 1980s, that number was reduced to nine.

After the 1990 census, Democratic leaders moved to preserve the city's power in Annapolis by reaching beyond jurisdictional boundaries and drawing five districts that crossed into Baltimore County - bringing the number of districts with some city residents up to 10.

That plan, which governed the 1994 and 1998 elections, has helped maintain the diversity and political power of the Baltimore delegation. Baltimore is represented by six African-American and four white senators - all Democrats.

They include such key players as Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairman of the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee; Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount, who chairs the Education, Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee; and Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, chairman of the Finance Committee.

In contrast to the GOP redistricting plan, a plan being drafted by the city's African-American senators would keep eight Senate seats representing the city. Three districts would lie entirely within city lines, while five others would straddle the city-county line.

The Republican plan would jeopardize the political careers of Baltimore's two most powerful legislators, Hoffman and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings. Both lawmakers have used their positions to protect the city's interests in state budget decisions.

Hoffman, who is white, would lose her county precincts and be forced into a Senate district with a large African-American majority. Rawlings, who is black, would be pushed into a single-member subdistrict with three other delegates.

The plan would also put Bromwell's district entirely in the county, and pit Sen. Perry Sfikas, who is white, against Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, an African-American, in a black-majority 46th District. Sen. George W. Della Jr., a white Democrat who represents southern Baltimore, would be thrown into a redrawn 43rd District with black incumbents Blount, Ralph M. Hughes and Clarence M. Mitchell IV.

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