- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2001

ANNAPOLIS — The Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee soon will end its traveling road show around Maryland and start determining where to draw new political lines for electing members of Congress and the General Assembly.

Those decisions, if accepted by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the legislature, could give Democrats six of the state's eight congressional seats instead of the four they now have.

"Maryland Democrats are not pussycats. They have sharp claws," said Delegate Robert L. Flanagan, Howard Republican.

New district lines could determine whether Republicans continue to increase their numbers in the legislature as they did in the 1980s and early 1990s. They also will play a major role in determining whether more blacks serve in the Senate and House of Delegates.

The drawing of new districts after the national census every 10 years is considered the political equivalent of the Super Bowl.

"It's very important because the purpose of redistricting is to ensure that every voter has an equal voice in electing state legislators and federal congressmen," Mr. Flanagan said.

It is equally important on a partisan basis because it can influence whether Democrats or Republicans are elected, he said.

The five-member advisory committee, which expects to submit plans to the governor in November, faces a daunting task.

It must draw new lines for eight congressional districts that, according to U.S. Supreme Court decisions, must be near the ideal congressional district population of 662,061.

It also will propose new lines for 47 senatorial districts and, in some cases, divide those districts into subdistricts for House of Delegates elections.

Those districts can vary by about 5 percent from the ideal population of 112,691.

Secretary of State John Willis, chairman of the advisory committee, said drawing district lines is difficult because of the ripple effect that comes from shifting voters to meet population guidelines.

"If you do something in one area, you inevitably affect another area," he said. Redistricting is something akin to putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle whose pieces can fit into several different places.

The committee also includes House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany Democrat; Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George's Democrat; Montgomery County Council member Isiah Leggett, Democrat; and Council member Louise Gulyas, Worcester County Republican.

The first of 12 public meetings was held in Salisbury in June. The last will be Thursday in Montgomery County.

Cynics argue that the road show is just that — a show intended to give citizens the false impression that they have some input into the process. Mr. Willis insists that is not the case.

"There is not, quote, a plan that's already been done and that the governor and the legislative leaders have agreed on. That's just not true," he said.

But no one disagrees that the final decisions will be made by Mr. Glendening, a Democrat, and Mr. Taylor and Mr. Miller.

The governor's plan for legislative districts will be submitted to the legislature next year and likely will be accepted without change. Lawmakers can revise it or produce their own, but because of the tangled politics involved, it would be difficult for the two chambers to agree on a substitute.

Mr. Glendening's plan also will be the starting point for drawing new congressional districts. Mr. Taylor expressed confidence that he, Mr. Miller and Mr. Glendening will reach a consensus on both plans.

Democrats, solidly in control in Maryland, are drawing up plans to increase their numbers in Congress and the legislature.

Party leaders believe they can go from a 4-4 congressional split with Republicans to at least a 5-3 advantage by drawing new congressional districts. Some party leaders believe they could even win a sixth seat if the lines are drawn the right way.

The easiest target is Republican U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella, who represents Montgomery County, a normally reliable Democratic district.

Some proposals also call for putting Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in either a western Maryland district with Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett or the 1st Congressional District with Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest.

Mr. Taylor dismisses as "absurd" talk of a district extending eastward from Garrett County and looping down into Baltimore County where Mr. Ehrlich lives, with part of Frederick and perhaps Washington counties going into another district.

The Eastern Shore counties are expected to remain together in the 1st Congressional District. But the district may incorporate Harford County and portions of Baltimore County instead of crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, as it now does, to pick up part of Anne Arundel County.

A major issue concerning legislative districts is whether to break up the 47 Senate districts into 141 House districts.

In most cases, voters now elect one senator and three delegates, although there are a few one- or two-member districts.

Republicans, who hold 35 House seats, want single-member House districts, believing that would help them increase their representation.

If the governor refuses to recommend single-member districts, Republicans may sue to get multi-member districts declared unconstitutional, said House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman, Howard Republican.

Republican leaders are expecting the worst and know they are powerless to do anything about redistricting without court help.

"It's not a foregone conclusion in other states that it will be excessively partisan, but it certainly is in Maryland," Mr. Flanagan said.

Democrats say Republicans do the same thing when they are in control. In Virginia, for example, a Republican redistricting plan lumped 11 Democrats into five legislative districts and put two others in Republican strongholds.

Despite the talk of partisan politics, Mr. Willis said, the redistricting process still is driven by population figures.

"My estimate, being in the middle of the project, is that it's 85 percent numbers and 15 percent political," he said.

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