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Maryland congressional delegation disagrees on creating new district lines


ANNAPOLIS -- Several members of the Maryland congressional delegation told the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee last night how well they all work together. Then they proceeded to divide over the sticky question of congressional redistricting.

Five members -- a majority -- of the congressional delegation signed astatement advocating parameters that would combine the Eastern Shore counties -- now represented by Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st -- with an area that appeared to pinpoint Anne Arundel County, an area now represented by Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th.

Representative McMillen unveiled a plan that would redraw the congressional map and place Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, in a district with Representative Gilchrest.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gilchrest suggested that his district remain the same -- the Eastern Shore and the three counties that make up Southern Maryland -- a view that was strongly expressed by residents and political leaders during committee hearings in both locations.

Representative Constance A. Morella, R-Md.-8th, whose district comprises Montgomery County, said only that she hoped the new congressional lines would leave at least one district within the county boundaries.

Last night's hearing, which drew about 50 people, was the last public hearing for the five-member gubernatorial committee. The panel will release a proposal -- or proposals -- next month for new congressional district lines to be used in the state primary next March and last for a decade. The state legislature will vote on a final plan in September.

Representative Beverly B. Byron, D-Md.-6th, speaking for the five delegation members who backed the majority plan, said the parameters they agreed upon for the eight congressional districts would include a Washington suburban district that would include the three Southern Maryland counties. The plan also said, in vague terms, that one district would combine the Eastern Shore counties "with the balance of the population needed" to forge a new district.

The majority plan stopped short of endorsing a minority district, saying that, if the committee were to create such a district without a current delegation member living there, "then the new statewide plan of necessity will be controversial."

There is wide speculation among Democrats and Republicans that the sharp increase in black population in the Washington suburbs requires a new majority-black district under the federal Voting Rights Act. Should that occur, many Democrats hope to forge another seat to protect Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, widely considered the delegation's most powerful member. His district now encompasses what would be the black district.

"With this scenario, two of our delegation members . . . would find themselves in the same Congressional district," the statement said.

Besides Mrs. Byron, the majority plan was endorsed by Mr. Hoyer and Representatives Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, Mrs. Bentley and Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.-7th.

An aide to Mr. McMillen said the congressman would not sign on because it appeared from the plan that he would be paired with the Eastern Shore region. Mr. McMillen has said that he was approached by both Mr. Hoyer and Mr. Cardin and asked to agree to a matchup with Mr. Gilchrest.

Some political observers have said that Mrs. Bentley's close ties with the governor, her maritime and trade work in Congress and her threats to run against Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., next year, make it unwise to tamper with her district.

But Mr. McMillen called for a plan last night that would create a majority-black district and another for Mr. Hoyer, while casting Mrs. Bentley in with Mr. Gilchrest. He noted that Mrs. Bentley's largely Baltimore County district is "contiguous" with the Eastern Shore.

The Crofton Democrat suggested his district -- which besides Anne Arundel, includes portions of Prince George's and Howard counties -- move farther into Howard County as well as into Baltimore city, a move that would grant "three voices" for Baltimore. His would be added to those of Representatives Cardin and Mfume.

Creating districts that would endanger Democrats would be "disastrous," he said. "The Democratic delegation in the House has tremendous influence in a Democratic Congress," he said.

"Needless to say, I don't agree with Mr. McMillen," Mrs. Bentley told the committee, saying Republicans also are an important force in Washington. "We have a Republican White House."

"We don't want to see one of those [Republican] districts wiped out by combining two districts," said Mrs. Bentley.

The statements last night reflected the inability of the delegation -- and other Maryland political leaders -- to decide which two members will have to double up to achieve what are legal and political: a black district and a Hoyer district.

There also is opposition in the state Democratic Party leadership to a McMillen-Gilchrest matchup. Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Nathan Landow last night sent the committee a letter saying the party would come up with its own redistricting plan that creates a majority-black district and "the five Democratic incumbents will each be in his or her own district."

Also, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, has told Mr. McMillen he is against a McMillen-Gilchrest match, preferring to pair two Republicans.

Meanwhile, the state GOP has created a plan that would carve out the same majority-black district but not create a "safe seat" for Mr. Hoyer.

"I'm going to continue to work with Tom [McMillen]," Mr. Hoyer said after the hearing.

Mr. Hoyer also noted that Mr. McMillen's seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee is important to the state. "I'm going to work hard to see him re-elected," he said.

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