Despite the high-handed action of House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell in recessing the House of Delegates until Oct. 21, substantial progress was made yesterday on breaking the congressional redistricting deadlock in the State House. A sensible compromise plan, SB14, gained broad support in the state Senate and was winning a growing number of allies in the House. It is the best map on the negotiating table.
Speaker Mitchell acted in anger in sending his delegates home for three weeks rather than negotiate with senators to resolve the redistricting dispute. This only prolongs the problem and increases the pressure on him from vested interests seeking additional concessions in re-drawing boundary lines for Maryland's eight congressional seats. Yet this breathing space will also give Mr. Mitchell time to calmly consider his options, which are rapidly dwindling.
It should be clear to all concerned that the bills passed by the House and the Senate on Wednesday are no longer viable redistricting plans. Neither bill has enough support to win General Assembly passage. SB14, on the other hand, has emerged as the best consensus proposal we have seen to date. It connects the Eastern Shore district with Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, creates a new Second District out of Cecil, Harford and Baltimore counties and retains a quintessential Western Maryland district.
This plan retains the integrity of three urban-oriented Baltimore districts and also treats the Washington region with equity and fairness. The only ones unhappy with the proposal are certain Eastern Shore legislators, especially Mr. Mitchell, and Rep. Tom McMillen, who has objected to nearly every redistricting proposal put forth. Most important of all, SB14 respects community and political boundaries and puts counties with similar interests in the same congressional district.
We urge Gov. William Donald Schaefer and other leaders to bring Mr. Mitchell back to the redistricting negotiations. This is not the time to retreat and sulk; it is the time to sit down and discuss how to end this deadlock. SB14 offers the best hope yet to give Marylanders compact districts that approximate existing boundary lines. It is not ideal, but nothing ever is in political Annapolis.