- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Nothing that Parris N. Glendening will do in his final year as Maryland governor is likely to attract more attention in the General Assembly than the legislative redistricting plan he will submit to lawmakers Wednesday.
The map of new districts the Democratic governor will propose for choosing the state's 188 lawmakers at elections in 2002, 2006 and 2010 will help determine the partisan and racial makeup of the General Assembly for the next 12 years.
The plan also will make or break the political futures of some current legislators, giving it a rare personal significance for the 141 House members and 47 senators.
Republicans have criticized the plan for its treatment of minorities and what Michael Steele, the state party chairman, calls its excessive partisan attack on Republicans.
"I think legal action is likely, not just from the GOP but from other groups and individuals across the state," Mr. Steele said.
The advisory committee's plan also has drawn criticism from some black officials and political activists in Prince George's County who say it would create just four districts where blacks are in the majority and a fifth district with a plurality of black voters.
Despite its importance to legislators, it will be difficult if not impossible for the General Assembly to make any changes in Mr. Glendening's proposed redistricting.
The process for drawing new districts for legislators and the eight members of Congress after the national census every 10 years puts great power in the hands of the governor, especially in the case of legislative districts.
The Senate and House of Delegates have 45 days to adopt a legislative plan of their own. If they don't, Mr. Glendening's proposal becomes law and could be changed only by a successful court challenge.
"The only changes that generally take place are technical and corrective where mistakes were made," said Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, Baltimore Democrat.
"The reality is that there will be so many legislators that will be satisfied with the redistricting proposal that you won't be able to get enough support to make changes."
The legislature has more leeway with congressional districts, where there is no 45-day deadline and where they must pass a bill implementing the plan.
But the governor and his advisory committee again will play the key role, proposing a plan that will, at the least, form the basis for electing the eight members of Congress.
The advisory committee concentrated first on legislative districts because the issue is more complex and the General Assembly operates under the tight deadline.
The committee hopes to get a recommendation to Mr. Glendening soon about congressional districts, but is holding off while the four Democratic incumbent congressmen try to reach a consensus on how the new district lines should be drawn.
Lawmakers who think the General Assembly should adopt its own legislative plan would need strong backing from legislative leaders to have a chance for success.
But House Speaker Casper Taylor, Allegany Democrat, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Prince George's Democrat, played key roles in developing the advisory committee report that will be the basis for Mr. Glendening's plan.
Asked if there was any reasonable chance the General Assembly would reject Mr. Glendening's plan and develop its own, Mr. Taylor replied: "I don't think so."
Regardless of the apparent inevitability of the governor's proposal, legislative redistricting is expected to get a lot of attention during the first 45 days of the session.
Committees in the House and Senate will hold hearings where disgruntled politicians and members of the public can vent their displeasure.
The session also will provide opponents a chance to lay the groundwork for potential legal challenges to the new districts.
The plan released in December by the redistricting advisory committee drew complaints from Republicans and some black officials and political activists who said it did not give equal treatment to minorities.
The strongest complaints came from Sen. Clarence Mitchell IV, a Baltimore Democrat who was placed in a district with a white Democratic incumbent, George Della.
Even though the district had a slight black majority, Mr. Mitchell threatened 11 days ago to bolt the Democratic Party and perhaps become a Republican unless Mr. Glendening came up with a revised plan "which shows a true democratic representation in this state."
Mr. Mitchell said he would reveal his plans tomorrow.
Black lawmakers in Baltimore appeared to be more upset about the future of the three black delegates in Mr. Mitchell's current district, who were included in the same single-member House district and would run against each other if all three sought re-election.
"That's so blatantly flawed," Mr. Rawlings said. "I'm confident the governor will address that problem."
If the governor does not change the portion of the advisory committee's proposal dealing with the three House seats, the plan would be challenged as a violation of the 1965 federal voting rights act, Mr. Rawlings said.
Secretary of State John Willis, chairman of the governor's advisory committee, said Maryland historically ranks near the top nationally in electing minorities to the legislature.
The state has the fifth highest percentage of voting-age blacks among the 50 states, the fifth highest percentage of black senators and the fourth highest percentage of black House members, Mr. Willis said.
"The plan submitted by the black caucus and the [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] had 10 majority African-American districts. Our plan has 10 African-American districts," Mr. Willis said.
"I have no doubt that in 2002, more African-Americans will be elected to the General Assembly than in 1998."

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