- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2001

ANNAPOLIS Republicans have joined the legislative redistricting fight with a plan they say would give minorities a better chance of representation in the Maryland House of Delegates.
But Democratic leaders say the only minority that would benefit would be the Republican Party, which holds just 35 seats in the 141-member House.
The heart of the GOP's plan is a proposal to elect every House member from a separate district, a major departure from current practice.
The state is now divided into 47 Senate districts that include one senator and three delegates. In 34 of those districts, the three House members are elected at-large. The other districts are subdivided into two or three House districts, usually in rural areas where Senate districts cross county boundaries.
The effect of multiple-member districts has been to deny minorities the ability to elect members to the House, Michael Steele, Maryland Republican Party chairman, said Monday.
"The current system effectively locks them out," Mr. Steele said. "The Democrats want minority voters. They just don't want them at the table."
House Speaker Casper Taylor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, both Democrats, vehemently disagree.
Mr. Miller, District 27, said the plan is a hypocritical attempt by Republicans to increase their own numbers under the guise of helping minorities.
Mr. Taylor, District 1, said the premise behind the Republican proposal "is horribly divisive and a giant step backward."
"It's pretty transparent what the proposal is all about," Mr. Taylor said. "It's all about partisan politics. It's not about minority politics."
Since blacks are the most reliable Democratic voting block in Maryland, there is some advantage for Republicans in compacting them into overwhelmingly black districts and some advantage to Democrats of moving black voters into majority white districts where they can help overcome a Republican edge among white voters.
The Republican plan released Friday includes 39 House districts where minorities blacks, Hispanics and Asians make up more than 50 percent of the population. There are currently 29 black members of the House and two Asians.
Mr. Steele said minorities will have the opportunity to elect representatives in each of those 39 districts at the 2002 election.
But in six of those districts, whites would make up the largest voting block, and minority groups would, if voting occurs along racial lines, have to band together to guarantee election of a minority delegate.
"There is no guarantee that any community is going to elect Hispanics, African-Americans or even white folks, for that matter," Mr. Steele said. "What it does is offer those ethnic groups the chance to run their own candidates and be competitive."
Mr. Taylor, one of five members of the committee that will draft a proposed redistricting plan for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Democrat, said the number of black delegates probably will increase after the 2002 election, in any event. He said there also is a good chance "without artificially tampering with the system" that Hispanics will dominate a Montgomery County district.
Mr. Steele acknowledged that single-member districts can help Republicans in some areas of the state, but "this isn't about empowering Republicans, which a lot of Democrats want to say."
Since Democrats will control the redistricting process when the governor and legislature adopt new district boundaries next year, Republican leaders don't expect their plan to be adopted. But it could form the basis for a challenge to the constitutionality of multimember districts if the Republican Party decides to contest the redistricting plan in court.

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