Districting is a political process--recognized by the courts as being committed to the legislative branch of government. This is no more or less the case in Prince George's County, where reapportionment battles are often nothing more than struggles by those who see themselves as political "outs" to get "in."
While some opposing the proposed redistricting plan are sincerely interested in good government and fair representation, many who are bleating noisily are veteran political activists representing selfish or parochial concerns. Some are actually candidates. Like jackals finding themselves on the fringe of a crowded carcass, they howl frustration; were they feeding on the quarry, the hunger of their counterparts at the pack's edge would be relatively unimportant.
Fortunately, the redistricting commission appointed by the county council did not dwell on any single political objective or special interest. Over many months the commission held work sessions open to the public and, although not required by law to do so, it held widely publicized public hearings. Statistics, maps and other information were available to concerned citizens. And although many of the "experts" now criticizing the proposal had ample opportunity to submit their own plans, most chose not to do so.
Important concerns arose: maintaining municipal integrity, ensuring fair representation for blacks and other minorities, preserving communities of interest, enhancing Republican electoral opportunities and protecting sensible land use and development. From all this, the commission created a fair and balanced plan.
As an attorney, I am aware that one of the easiest ways to destroy an apportionment scheme is to establish a racially discriminatory intent and effect. As the lone minority member of the commission, I am equally as cognizant of the rightful desire of the county's growing minority community to achieve fair representation. It is heartening that so many of the plan's critics have suddenly arisen to champion this cause despite their failure to do so on countless other occasions.
Never has minority participation on the county's elected bodies been proportionate to their numbers in the general population. Of the 11 county council members, only three--or 27 percent--are black, a percentage far less than the approximately 40 percent minority population in the county. Moreover, two of the three black incumbents first attained their posts by appointment, not election. The third resides in an area where, under the new single- member districting scheme, his chances of reelection are regarded as slim at best. Obviously, blacks do not want that already tenuous and disproportionate representation eroded.
The commission's unanimous objective was to preserve the opportunity for blacks and other minorities to elect at least three representatives to the next county council. With the exception of certain heavily minority areas along the District boundary, blacks are well integrated in many communities or located in enclaves far distant from each other. Moreover, blacks tend to register and to vote in smaller proportions than do their white counterparts.
Therefore it is possible to create three largely black districts, wherein, despite their numbers, blacks are apt to win only one seat. The recommended plan creates three majority black districts portending the realistic ability of minorities to control at least two. Is this not in the best interests of the county?
Another prevalent demand was that the integrity of the county's cities and towns be preserved. The plan does an excellent job of recognizing this. Representation for the "south" was also a matter of grave concern. Some felt hat three distinctly southern districts were desirable. The most popular rationale was that the undeveloped land areas there needed special protection. With five of nine districts wholly or partially in the south, the commission's compromise satisfies the land use concern supposedly underlying this desire.
As for the allegation that the plan is "political" or formulated with its acceptability to council incumbents in mind--of course, it was, in part. The commission was a "political" entity, lawfully constituted by the "political" county council to do a "political" chore. Even so, a plan done by the county council itself would be far more "political" than that proposed.
Although the population variance between the largest and smallest districts is larger than ideal, it is well within that permitted by the courts and less than 2 percent larger than proposed in the Republican plan. Similarly, although Greenbelt understandably does not wish to be in a district with Bowie, the fact that it is is hardly diabolical. The plan's effect on women and southern incumbents is virtually unavoidable, because seven council members and all of the women live in the southern half of the county. I think it is commendable that the commission managed to conceive the plan it did while adhering to the requirements of law and the guidelines it adopted.