So far in its deliberations, the Governor's Advisory Redistricting Committee has bent over backwards to appease influential congressmen and Democratic Party functionaries. The result: a distorted congressional map that has provoked a furor. Now is the time for the panel to step away from this plan and take a fresh look at the redistricting process -- drawing boundary lines that give priority first and foremost to people, not politicians.
What the committee proposes for Baltimore County is a horror. Had House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell's Eastern Shore been divided among five congressional districts, he'd be apoplectic. Had Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's Prince George's County been chopped into five pieces, with boundary lines slicing towns in half, he'd be in an uncontrolled rage. Had panel member Norman Glasgow's Montgomery County been the victim five-way partition, he'd be up in arms. And so would all of these members' constituents.
Yet this is exactly what the committee did to Baltimore County. The state's third-largest county won't have a true voice in Congress for the first time in 100 years. The panel also stripped fast-growing Harford County of any influence within a congressional district and placed half of Howard County in a district against citizens' wishes. The panel insensitively ignored arguments of compactness, contiguity and neighborhood compatibility.
It sliced in half Reisterstown, Deer Park, Pikesville, Hunt Valley, Phoenix, Jacksonville, Timonium, Parkville, Middle River and Dundalk. Essex was simply amputated from Baltimore County and floated across the Patapsco River to Anne Arundel County. And the community of Eastwood, on the city-county line, finds itself torn in thirds.
Folks in these communities are screaming "disenfranchisement." And for good reason. No other region was given such back-handed treatment.
If committee members are interested in fairness and equitable treatment, they should seek out sensible alternatives. Not just tinkering with a few precincts but a new map that gives Baltimore County, and the Baltimore region, a fair shake. Let's ignore political aspirations and party affiliations. Let's come up with a plan that puts people with common interests in the same district. And let's treat all segments of Maryland fairly. Discriminating against Maryland's largest region will only leave deep scars that could mar upcoming sessions of the General Assembly and next year's elections.
The redistricting committee ought to use Tuesday's public hearing as a sounding board. Then it should produce a congressional plan that may not please the politicians but is sensitive to the wishes of community groups and citizens.