ANNAPOLIS -- House and Senate leaders predicted yesterday that their respective chambers will pass competing congressional redistricting plans this week and that it could take days to work out a compromise.
The gap between the plan the House of Delegates is expected to back and the variety of plans under consideration by the Senate is so great that the presiding officers have even discussed the possibility of postponing Maryland's March 3 presidential primary to buy more time, although they said that was unlikely.
Committees from the two houses are scheduled to hold a joint public hearing at 10:30 a.m. today to consider as many as 16 separate plans to redraw the lines of the state's eight congressional districts. The fullGeneral Assembly is to convene at 11 a.m. tomorrow to deal with the redistricting issue in what was originally expected to be a one-day special session.
Hope for a quick resolution was --ed last week when the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee scrapped a plan backed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, and replaced it with one backed by House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, and Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Mr. Miller, who was in Ireland when the committee unexpectedly met and adopted the revised plan, returned to his State House office yesterday and decried the new proposal as "politically expedient and not in the best interests of the people of Maryland."
The original plan he backed would have placed Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, in an Eastern Shore district now represented by fellow Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest of the 1st District.
The revised plan, which Speaker Mitchell said was "overwhelmingly, if not unanimously" backed by other House leaders, would put Mrs. Bentley in the mostly Anne Arundel County district now represented by 4th District Democrat Tom McMillen.
Mr. McMillen yesterday said he expects Senator Miller's plan to prevail.
"I don't think they can get a plan through the legislature that puts a Democrat and a Republican together," he said.
Mr. McMillen also criticized Governor Schaefer, saying, "He complains about the Democratic Party, and then he sits there and undercuts it."
Aides to Mr. Schaefer have said the governor wants to keep the port of Baltimore in Mrs. Bentley's district, viewing her work on maritime issues as important to the state. But Mr. McMillen wondered how much longer a woman of Mrs. Bentley's age will remain in Congress. She turns 68 in November.
Mr. Miller and others involved in the process said the plan approved last week came from Mrs. Bentley, who hoped to forge a better district for herself by coupling her Baltimore County political base with increasingly Republican Anne Arundel County.
"I never drew a plan like that," countered Mrs. Bentley, who said she backed a plan that would combine Baltimore and Harford counties with only 45,000 Anne Arundel voters.
Those familiar with the behind-the-scenes maneuvering say no one was "out to get" Mr. McMillen. Rather, they say, he has been the victim of legal requirements for the plan, geographic realities and political deference to the delegation's more senior members. The eight incumbents have been forced to play musical chairs in seven districts by the federal Voting Rights Act, which requires the state to create a new majority-black district in the Washington suburbs. Democratic leaders also wanted to protect VTC Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, who ranks high in the House hierarchy, by carving out a seat for him.
By the time large, mostly rural regions of the state -- Western Maryland, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore -- were assigned to districts, the boundary disputes began erupting in the suburbs between Washington and Baltimore -- primarily in Mr. McMillen's district.
Mr. McMillen hoped to shift from some of his increasingly Republican precincts to ones with more Democratic voters, but that encroached on some of his colleagues.
"Everybody's got to give something to make it happen," he said.