Debate over congressional redistricting screeched to a halt in Annapolis today when Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., upset over a Senate proposal to cut up his native Eastern Shore, sent the House of Delegates home until Oct. 21.
Refusing to consider alternative Senate plans, Mitchell said, "We have a compromise plan that we have sent to the Senate, and I think they have to look at it."
Across the State House lobby, a clearly angry Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. accused the House of "turning tail and running." He said the Senate had considered all House proposals.
"If you can't solve these problems, you should step aside and let somebody else do it," Miller said of his counterpart in the House.
The action brought a sudden close to a special session that was supposed to draw new districts for Maryland's eight representatives in Congress. The deliberations began yesterday, with leaders of the houses backing different plans.
The House plan would keep the Eastern Shore intact, but it was unacceptable to Miller because it would set up a race between a Democratic incumbent, Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, and Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd.
Calmly, Mitchell today laid the blame for the impasse at Miller's door. In a brief speech to the delegates, Mitchell said it made no sense to keep them in Annapolis at taxpayer expense for several more days.
Mitchell said he and Miller need to talk and establish what he called a "systematic system" for dealing with the divisive issue. There was a smattering of applause from delegates when he finished.
Miller predicted the Senate would meet again today to craft several compromise proposals for the House to consider.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who heard Mitchell recess the House over an office intercom audio system, defended the speaker's action.
"He didn't walk," said Schaefer. "They couldn't get anything done. There's no use in sitting around doing nothing."
Speculation quickly spread throughout the State House that Mitchell was so upset with the Senate that he is willing to let a federal court draw Maryland's congressional districts. That would occur if the legislature cannot come up with a plan. If federal judges draw the boundary lines, some legislators say, they are not likely to split Mitchell's Eastern Shore.
The Senate's latest plan, among other things, would keep Baltimore County within three congressional districts, giving Bentley a base of about 380,000 people, including Essex and Dundalk intact.
But it would push Anne Arundel County into a slightly abbreviated 1st District on the Eastern Shore, with the likelihood that McMillen would be forced to run against Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican freshman from the 1st District.
Although the bill reportedly has the support of 38 of the 47 Senate members, it ran into serious trouble in the House because it splits Mitchell's Shore into two districts. Sources said the plan would put Cecil County, the northernmost Shore county, into the new Bentley district along with Harford County.
Word that the Eastern Shore could lose its uppermost county under the latest redistricting scenario drew cries of protest from Shore legislators today when a Senate redistricting committee met to discuss mapping plans.
"It looks like we're the ones who are going to be sacrificed," scowled Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr., the senior legislator from the Shore, who admitted that the handful of Eastern Shore lawmakers in the General Assembly may not have the clout to stop the plan.
"Fairness does not exist in the legislature," Malkus complained. "The only thing that counts is votes."
In a sharp comment to his senate colleagues, Malkus warned that on future issues, Shore lawmakers will pay back those who support the plan.
L "This division of the Eastern Shore won't go away," he said.
The compromise Senate plan, which sources say was orchestrated by Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore City, also has McMillen supporters distressed.
"That's something we're not happy with," Jerry Grant, McMillen's top aide, said this morning.
Before the House left, the Senate committee voted to conform a House mapping bill to a Senate version, hoping to set up a conference committee made up of House and Senate members. It was there that the compromise plan was to be brought up.
Until late yesterday, most lawmakers on both sides of the confusing issue stuck to a political script outlined by legislative leaders.
As expected, the House and Senate initially approved different congressional redistricting plans. While similar in many respects, the two plans have "philosophical differences," said Miller.
After quickly defeating several alternatives, the House voted 89 to 3 in favor of the plan that a state redistricting committee approved last week. That plan pits McMillen against Bentley in a district that spans Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.
The House plan had the support of 18 of the 25 Republican members, but it was opposed by the Baltimore County delegation as well as by several members from Prince George's County.
Hours later, the Senate approved by a 33-13 vote a plan championed by Miller that would put Bentley in the same district with Gilchrest.
The sprawling district would extend from Dundalk and Essex in Baltimore County over the top of Chesapeake Bay and down the Eastern Shore to the Virginia line.
When told yesterday that Mitchell was thinking about recessing the House until Oct. 21, a surprised Miller suggested that the House leader was not pleased with the margin of votes he received for his plan. The redistricting plan requires 85 votes to pass the House.
"He's unhappy," said Miller. "He's unhappy he had to use Republican votes. He's unhappy he and the governor are defenders of the Republican Party."
Miller has been critical of some state Democratic Party leaders -- including Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- he said had abandoned party objectives by backing redistricting plans that help Bentley.
The Pica bill, which has been dubbed "Pica Plan 1," not only would threaten Gilchrest's political future, it would offer other conditions suitable to the desires of the state's Democratic majority party, including:
* Keeping a "safe" district for Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th.
* Maintaining a solid base of support for Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, by moving his district south into Howard County.
* Stopping Democrat Rep. Beverly B. Byron's 6th District from intruding into Baltimore County.
* Establishing a new minority district in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
Pica said today he hopes the plan will get the support of House members once they have a chance to look at it.
Last night, the Senate turned back a proposal from Baltimore County lawmakers that would have lumped Bentley and Cardin into a district that would have been controlled by county voters.
"One of the things that's right with it, it gives Baltimore County the representation it deserves," said Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Balto. Co.
The loudest protests throughout the redistricting process have BTC come from Baltimore County lawmakers, who say their county is being carved into five districts under both the House and the Senate plans.
Bromwell and Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, R-Balto. Co., last night turned the issue into a county vs. city squabble, saying the city of Baltimore, with a declining population, does not merit having two members of Congress.
Baltimore County lawmakers would be bitter about the redistricting for years to come, Boozer predicted.
"Three years is a long time to live together when you feel like you've been stabbed in the back or hit over the head," Boozer said.