Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes' final plan for legislative reapportionment has become a steady source of anxiety and annoyance here because of obscure technical errors that some legislators fear could render it unconstitutional.
Although the Hughes plan appears to have the support of most members of the General Assembly, the six errors that the governor discovered after submitting it may have opened the door for more changes, and more infighting concerning this most explosive of political issues.
"All the emotions that have been kept in check can explode," said Sen. Howard Denis (R-Montgomery). "It's going to get wild and woolly down here because of these technical defects. People will use the defects as a vehicle to make other changes. My feeling is, lead us not into temptation."
At issue is whether--and how--to change the errors in the final plan that the governor, as required by law, presented to the assembly on its opening day.
"There is very, very geat danger for us in dabbling with the governor's plan," said Del. Robert S. Redding, chairman of the Prince George's County delegation, a group anxious to leave Hughes' plan intact because of the political clout that it would preserve for the county's legislators. "I think we could end up with a situation we can't handle.
"Everybody knows what the governor's intention was," Redding continued, arguing that the technical errors were inadvertent and could be corrected without violating constitutional requirements. "There was documentary evidence maps to show it."
But other legislators feel that a new resolution must be drawn to correct the errors, just to ensure that the plan can stand up in court should there be a legal challenge. Resolutions are forthcoming in both chambers that would substitute a new, "clean" version for the governor's original plan, but there still are fears that these new resolutions will invite further changes.
The technical errors include such things as listing an interstate highway as a "U.S." highway, listing one district twice, listing a bill section incorrectly, and mixing up some periods and commas.
Hughes' plan would go into effect automatically on Feb. 20 unless the legislature approves a different plan by then.
The House committee responsible for reapportionment voted this week to reject six proposed amendments to the original plan, signaling the committee's desire to avoid, in one member's words, "a complete fiasco," and to emphasize that the Hughes version must stay intact.
Senate reaction now is crucial. There has been more sentiment against the Hughes' proposal there, principally from Senate President James Clark, and several key members of the Senate Constitution and Public Law Committee who lost their districts during the early stages of the reapportionment process.
Clark has proposed controversial changes, unrelated to the technical errors, because he says that under the governor's plan his home base of Howard County is "cut up like a Christmas turkey," and his own district comes out "looking like a dog."
During the past week of public hearings, Clark lobbied individual Montgomery County legislators to support his measure putting the community of Columbia in Howard County back into one district. Hughes rejected this maneuver, although it was supported by his commission on reapportionment.
"Dr. Frankenstein, are you sure you want to proceed with that experiment?" Sen. Victor Crawford, chairman of the Senate delegation from Montgomery County, asked Clark.
Clark, who also has lobbied every committee member involved in reapportionment, said his amendment "doesn't change the balance of power one iota," a statement disputed by Prince George's legislators who want to defeat his amendment.
The Senate committee will vote on several amendments, including Clark's, next week.
The energy devoted to remedying the technical errors has annoyed some legislators and led to insults of the governor, who was on vacation in the Caribbean for two weeks before the session, leaving only a few days for the final version to be drafted.
"They screwed around with it so long that it just got slopped together in the end," said Crawford. "There is really no excuse for it."
"I just can't believe it," said a delegate who asked not to be named. "Knowing how controversial this could be, and how divisive, and that it is also an election year, I don't see how they could not have bent over backwards to make sure it was exactly right."
Administration officials who worked on the plan blamed a computer failure the night that the final version was being prepared for contributing to the problems. The bulk of the plan had to be assembled by hand, in haste, they said, making such errors unavoidable.