Here on the ocean side of Chesapeake Bay, some state legislators from Maryland's rural Eastern Shore have never quite forgiven the Supreme Court for its landmark "one man, one vote" ruling of nearly two decades ago.
They didn't like it then, when the nine sparsely populated counties of the Eastern Shore were forced to cede power in the General Assembly to urban areas. And they don't like it now as the ruling, which requires that all legislative districts have equal population, threatens to disrupt the Shore's peaceful political order.
"Earl Warren former Supreme Court chief justice shouldn't've been chief justice anyhow," said State Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr., the region's crusty elder statesman. "But be that as it may, the whole principle of one-man one-vote is wrong. The whole damn system is wrong."
Before the court ruling, when every Maryland county had its own senator, Malkus led a formidable delegation of nine Eastern Shoremen. But the delegation was pared to three senators and nine delegates when the court ruled that legislative representation had to reflect population, not county units. Politicians here grudgingly made their peace with the new order after a reapportionment plan was drawn that guaranteed each county at least one resident delegate. It wasn't a senator, but it was something.
This provision was considered crucial on the Shore because most counties do not have home rule and rely on state legislators to get all their local laws enacted in Annapolis.
Now all this may have to change. According to the 1980 census, nearly 40,000 newcomers have arrived in the last 10 years on this once-isolated peninusula with its miles of jagged shoreline. But the growth, which qualifies the Shore for an extra delegate, has been uneven -- mostly in the south, by the beaches, and in the north near the state's booming outer suburbs. The middle, with its marshes, melon farms and fisheries, has stayed about the same in size. And that is the heart of the Eastern Shore's reapportionment problem.
Under the principle of one-man one-vote, every Maryland district, home to one senator and three delegates, must have roughly90,000 residents. So, the fast-growing lower Shore district must give up some population to the middle district. The middle must then bump some population into the upper shore district. While that makes the three districts equal in size it also places more than three counties in one district -- and with only three delegates to a district, some counties would have to do without.
Under one plan, for instance, the middle district would stretch into five different counties and all candidates would have to run at-large. It also would place two counties together that touch each other only across a river. "Supposedly they were contiguous by water, but if that was so we'd like to be contiguous with Bermuda and Nassau," said Easton Del. William Horne.
"I don't think the Supreme Court envisioned this sort of thing," said Del. Clayton Mitchell, who is considered vulnerable because his home county, Kent, is the smallest and would not have enough votes to make him a winner in an at-large election. "We're traditional on the Shore; more than other areas we're tied to counties. If we could reapportion according to geese we'd have you done in. If everything's working fine why reinvent the wheel?"
His view is supported by most of the Shore's state legislators, who would like to let the whole reapportionment process pass them by this time and simply keep the status quo. The 12 legislators made this point last August at a public hearing held by Gov. Harry Hughes' Advisory Committee on Redistricting and Reapportionment. When the committee showed up in Easton to hear the concerns of the Eastern Shore, the 12-member delegation trooped in, Mitchell read a two-paragraph prepared statement stating this position, and they all trooped out.
"They sat there aghast," said Caroline County Del. John Hargreaves, chortling at the thought. The gravel-voiced Hargreaves, chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee who is also considered vulnerable because his county is small, has taken to calling the five-member committee "these goddamn do-gooders."
Since that hearing the shore delegation has stuck to its Easton position and unlike its counterparts, who have spent the last few months bickering over new lines, the Eastern Shore 12 have been farming, practicing law and running businesses just as they do every fall.
"Everywhere you go in Annapolis, you see two or three people together over a map -- except for the Eastern Shore delegation. We're just hoping for the best," said Del. Lewis Riley, who has spent the last few weeks combining soybeans, planting wheat and raising fryers on his three Parsonsburg farms. "Regardless of what we offer it's all gonna end up in court anyway."
In fact, a court suit seems to be the only inevitability in the entire Eastern Shore reapportionment process. No one has come up with an acceptable new plan for the Shore, not even the advisory committee, which is committed to the notion of resident districts but is stymied over how to do it. Everyone, on the other hand, is threatening to sue.
On the lower Shore, for instance, Wicomico County Council president Victory Laws recently pulled from his files for review an old copy of a suit he filed last time around when the state split his county into two different districts. He took the case all the way to the Supreme Court and despite his lack of success --Wicomico was divided -- is promising to return to the courts again.
Laws wants Wicomico, the county that surrounds growing Salisbury, to be reunified. He and others in the county also feel that as the largest of the Shore's counties, with 64,000 people, Wicomico should have the opportunity to elect more than one delegate. Laws is completely at odds with the Shore's incumbents when he declares that the residency requirement should be jettisoned.
"I feel I have an obligation to speak for the county," Laws said recently, holding his Supreme Court brief. "The status quo guarantees each one of the incumbents a seat. Therefore it's in their selfish interest to keep things as they are."
More than than 40 miles away, in Easton, Horne is planning to sue if Laws gets his way and Wicomico is put back together again. That would force Somerset to be joined to his district across the wide Nanticoke River -- and might force part of his home county, Talbot, into the upper Shore district.
Said Horne: "I'm not spending a lot of time on this. There's no plan that will be universally approved and accepted. On the 46th day of the legislature when a new plan must be in place someone will file an appeal with the court -- probably many someones. I figure it'll go to court and the court will draw the line. There are only seven people the judges of the state Court of Appeals I have to deal with."
Like Horne, all the representatives from the small counties such as Talbot, Kent and Caroline, are saying the same thing: they intend to sue. For if they are divided and the residency requirement is dropped, none of them will have enough people to elect one of their own in an at-large election.
To the north, legislators from Cecil County also are talking about going to court. Like Wicomico, Cecil is one of the large counties -- having grown from nearly 54,000 to 60,000 in the last decade. Its representatives insist that the new district lines should give Cecil the chance to elect more than one delegate.
"Our population on the Eastern Shore is right on the dot for 10 delegates," said Cecil Del. Richard Mackie. "When you get to the Sassafras River you're just about right on score for eight delegates. Then you get to Cecil County and that's right about on target for two." What Mackie and others in Cecil are proposing is joining part of Cecil -- enough to elect one delegate -- to a bigger Harford County district. But under that plan, Wicomico, 100 miles south, would have to remain split between two districts. And that guarantees a court case.
All of which has prompted the Shore's delegation chairman, Clay Mitchell, to shrug and say, "I still think we should just forget all this and form the seven countries of the Eastern Shore and then we could apply for foreign aid."