- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2001

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Republicans are ready to take the state´s ruling Democrats to court over their redistricting plans, arguing that the gerrymandered districts designed to favor Democrats have left minorities and Republicans underrepresented.

Census figures for 2000 suggest the Republicans may be right.

Maryland´s white majority declined from 70 percent of the population in 1990 to 64 percent in 2000. Despite gains of three minority senators and six minority delegates over that period, 81 percent of state senators and 78 percent of state delegates are white.

Republicans say the disproportionate numbers have resulted largely because Democrats, in control of legislative redistricting for decades, have scattered concentrations of minority and Republican voters, sometimes drawing them together across normal jurisdictional lines to serve Democratic leaders´ political ends. The result is a dilution of minority as well as GOP clout, Republicans say.

"We´re minority too, and anything that helps them helps us," said House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman, whose district includes parts of Howard and Montgomery counties.

While Republicans accounted for 29.6 percent of registered voters in Maryland last year, Republican legislators hold fewer than 25 percent of seats in the House and 28 percent in the Senate. However, only one Republican legislator belongs to a minority group — Sen. Alexander X. Mooney, whose mother fled to the United States from Cuba.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening — who must submit a redistricting plan to the General Assembly by the start of its regular session Jan. 9 — has named a committee to advise him on the matter, but many believe important decisions already have been made.

In naming the five-member committee last week, Mr. Glendening said it would "ensure that Maryland´s diversity is fairly and accurately represented in the State House and on Capitol Hill."

"We´ve just begun the process," said Glendening spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie.

Led by John Willis, Mr. Glendening´s secretary of state and longtime political strategist, the panel includes the Assembly´s Democratic presiding officers, a long-term Montgomery County council member who is black and one Republican a little-known, first-term Worcester County commissioner.

Maryland Republican Party Executive Director Paul Ellington said he is disturbed that no independents who make up 13.2 percent of Maryland´s electorate have been named to the advisory panel, which is expected to hold perhaps a dozen meetings around the state beginning this summer.

Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden said he hopes to hold the panel to the "one-man, one-vote" mandate — an ideal that House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said is its goal.

To that end, Republicans will push for single-member House districts and for House and Senate districts as equal in population as possible (a 5 percent variance is permitted), with minimal variations used to respect municipal and county boundaries, said Mr. Madden, who represents Howard and Prince George´s counties.

Offering an equitable Republican redistricting proposal is an important tool to keep the Democrats´ powers in check, Mr. Kittleman said.

The state legislative map, created in 1992 by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the General Assembly, relied heavily on cobbling together parts of Baltimore city and Baltimore County to preserve the city´s political clout, despite a dwindling population.

GOP leaders are quick to point out that disparities between minority population and representation are pronounced in some Democratic strongholds such as the Washington suburbs.

Minorities account for 73 percent of Prince George´s County residents, but about 38 percent of its Senate and 52 percent of its House delegations. Montgomery County, where census figures show 35 percent of residents belong to minority racial or ethnic groups, has only one minority state legislator. Not all residents are U.S. citizens and eligible to vote — and that factor may exacerbate the disparities in minority representation.

Population growth in the Washington suburbs and losses in Baltimore will shift some representation away from the state´s largest city and, if election patterns hold, could hurt minority representation in the legislature.

Maryland census figures also show the average senatorial district represented by a Republican has 121,563 persons, while the average district represented by their Democratic counterparts has 109,299 — suggesting Republican voters get less representation than Democrats.

With a Democratic governor and state legislative majority controlling redistricting decisions for Maryland´s congressional delegation, Maryland Republicans will have their work cut out for them preserving the four of eight seats they hold in the House of Representatives.

Republican Constance A. Morella of Montgomery County has kept her seat in a mostly Democratic district largely on the strength of her liberal views and independent voting record. But Mrs. Morella´s margin slipped below 60 percent for the first time last year, and — with Democrats just a handful of seats from controlling Congress — she is facing a concerted onslaught that may shift the 8th District eastward to improve Democrats´ chances to take her seat.

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