Glendening's balkanization of Maryland

February 17, 2002

LOOK AT THE MAP BELOW. And after you uncross your eyes, get used to those winding, wriggling shapes. If Gov. Parris N. Glendening has his way, this is how Marylanders will be represented in the next 10 Congresses.

Any number of its appalling features should push this proposal back to square one.

Take the 3rd District, for example. It snakes through and around Baltimore, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County neighborhoods that have little in common outside of their strategic and political value.

And how about the 2nd District? It is just barely contiguous, but just Democratic enough to make re-election a tougher proposition for Republican Congressman Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The 1st District is no better. It snakes up the Eastern Shore and loops around into Cecil, Harford and Baltimore counties. It also crosses the Bay Bridge to pick up a chunk of Anne Arundel County.

Historically, the courts have been unwilling to brave the political thickets to contest this sort of thing. Anything that doesn't smack of racial gerrymandering or other unconstitutional exclusion has pretty much escaped court revision.

But this melange of districts could make them reconsider. It defies any logic beyond the most crass, self-serving and transitory of political objectives.

The supremacy of the voter and the sanctity of the democratic process fall beneath the Democratic Party's determination to alter the balance of this state's congressional delegation, which now has four Republicans and four Democrats.

Instead of concern for the interests of a given district, this map has been tailored for one election and for individual Democrats who might be capable of defeating Republicans when the district lines are properly rigged.

Governor Glendening wishes to be the architect of a state with a 6-2 Democratic majority. The reason is clear: If a Maryland shift helps usher in a Democratic House of Representatives this year, Mr. Glendening could preen himself. Self-aggrandizement lurks behind the aberrant squiggles on this abominable map.

Its damage could be severe. It might reduce Baltimore's political strength. It could hurt Democrats in the long run. Congressman Benjamin L. Cardin, the 3rd District Democratic incumbent, seems likely to beat all comers, but if he leaves, the district has become so suburban and conservative that Republicans are wondering how they got so lucky.

Mr. Cardin's new district would reach from Pikesville north of the city to communities south of Annapolis on the Chesapeake Bay. Two fragments of this balkanized district hang together in Baltimore by no more land than a narrow city alley. Great continuity was lost as Democratic precincts got shifted to another district.

In the 7th District, half of Columbia gets linked to West and Central Baltimore. Will that make suburbanites anxious to see drug treatment compete with highways for the congressman's time? Or will Columbians see all their congressman's energies focused on the heart of his support?

If redistricting weren't so obscure, if voters focused at all on what the Democrats are doing to them, we might see some concern. But the maps themselves work against any cohesive opposition. How will Baltimore County's Pikesville and Anne Arundel's Edgewater, for example, join forces?

The Glendening map now heads for approval by the General Assembly, and even small changes are thought to be unlikely. Every district must have almost exactly the same number of people to meet the "one person, one vote" requirement of the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the interests of Marylanders can't be served by this map. It has but one purpose: to create the 6-2 Democratic majority for which Mr. Glendening would like to be able to take credit.

Too bad the governor didn't think more of those who elected him when he plotted out this travesty.

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