Gov. Harry Hughes hinted strongly today that he will intervene to help Prince George's County keep more seats in the legislature than Hughes' own redistricting commission recommended earlier this week.
Angry Prince George's legislators had branded the commission's proposal as a "sellout" of the Washington area, saying they deserved more than the 22 delegates and seven senators allotted them.
"I'm disposed to try to help them solve that problem," Hughes said today. "I think it's a fair proposition" that Prince George's should have a chance to elect one more delegate and possibly one more senator than the commission proposed.
The commission recommended reducing Prince George's from eight to seven legislative districts -- each with one senator and three delegates-- to compensate for the fact that the populous county did not grow as fast as the rest of the state in the last decade.
The city of Laurel, except for the Montpelier area, would be split off from Prince George's, and combined with a district dominated by Howard County and the new town of Columbia. Laurel would be alloted one delegate in the new district of three delegates and one senator, under the commission's proposal.
Prince George's legislators are pushing for a bigger piece of the Laurel-Columbia district, enough to elect a second delegate and possibly a senator there. The new legislative district lines would take effect starting in the 1982 election.
Several officials expressed surprise at Hughes' indication that he might overrule his own commission's proposal, since any change in Prince George's would affect both Montgomery and Howard counties as well.
Del. Ida Ruben, who chairs the Montgomery County House delegation, said she supports changes in the Prince George's lines but opposes alterations in Montgomery districts, which were significantly reshaped, but in ways that do not pit incumbents against each other.
Prince George's legislators were jubilant after learning of Hughes' remarks, repeating their contention that it is unfair for Howard County to be assured of electing two senators while populous Prince George's, long a dominant force in the legislature, is forced to lose one.
"The governor needs to be reelected and Howard County isn't going to reelect him," commented Del. Gerard Devlin (D-Prince George's).
Hughes will submit his proposal for new legislative district lines to the General Assembly in January, and the new political map will be adopted by the end of the session.