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General Assembly spins out of control on redistricting Both sides worry that matter may go to court.


If you think anarchy is a Soviet or Yugoslav problem, consider what's going on in Annapolis.

The Maryland General Assembly has spun apart over the issue of congressional redistricting, with no resolution in sight.

Although the state Senate was planning to take up redistricting today, it won't have a dance partner, since the disgusted leader of the House of Delegates has sent his troops home until Oct. 21.

Of course, the House could return sooner if a deal is imminent. But the House could just as well go home again Oct. 21 if the chambers remain divided.

And both sides are starting to worry that if the deadlock continues, the whole matter could be decided by a federal court.

What makes redistricting so difficult to handicap is that the issue has caused relations between House Speaker R. Clayton

Mitchell Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. to plunge to a new low.

Indeed, the animosity between the two strong-willed leaders may now be as divisive as the real differences lawmakers have over various redistricting proposals.

For example:

After Mitchell recessed the House yesterday, blaming the Senate for failing to consider what he calls a "compromise" redistricting plan passed by the House, Miller accused the House of "turning tail and running."

"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 irony in all this is that Mitchell and Miller initially worked together as the dominant members of the gubernatorial redistricting panel. They voted for the first plan that the panel approved in August.

But when Miller went to Ireland last week on vacation, the panel reversed course, coming up with a new plan. While the first plan essentially protected Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, which Miller wanted, the second plan paired him in a district with Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd.

Miller told associates he felt betrayed by Mitchell, who he said had promised to stick by the first plan in Miller's absence. Miller returned from Ireland determined to crush the second plan and, signaling his anger with Mitchell, indicated support for a plan that would cut into the speaker's native Eastern Shore.

The Shore currently is intact in the 1st Congressional District. But under a prominent new Senate proposal, part of Anne Arundel County would be united with the Shore south of Cecil County, while Cecil would be folded into a district that includes Harford, Carroll and part of Baltimore counties.

Mitchell says he won't be party to a plan that does that. Matching Miller tit for tat, he said the House plan -- essentially the first plan approved by the redistricting panel -- should be the last word on redistricting.

Curiously, the Senate plan Miller said he'd back upsets McMillen, whom he'd been trying to protect. This suggests that Miller's redistricting goals may be shifting because of his feud with Mitchell.

Any hope that Gov. William Donald Schaefer would step in to settle differences ended yesterday when the governor publicly sided with Mitchell.

"The speaker knows what he's doing," said Schaefer, musing that a "cooling off period" of nearly a month might help.

But that period may be anything but cool. Taking the stage vacated by the House, the Senate was planning today to act on redistricting, giving the appearance that at least one chamber was still at work.

"It's our job to solve problems, not to run away from them," Miller said, getting in the last word. For now.

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