The most potentially difficult political decision that state legislators have to face-- with the possible exception of raising taxes in an election year--is the redrawing of their own legislative districts. Reapportionment is most painful for those areas that lose population and, therefore, suffer reduced representation in the state legislature. Baltimore City found itself in that plight, while other areas such as nearby Howard County gained legislators.
Maryland's constitution recognizes the difficulty inherent in depending completely upon the legislature's ability to perform this surgery and provides a "fail-safe" process. It charges the governor with preparing a plan for legislative districts and presenting it to the General Assembly on the first day of the session in the reapportionment year. If no other plan is adopted by the legislature by midnight of the 45th day of the session, the governor's plan becomes law. The adopted plan is subject to judicial review upon the petition of any registered voter of Maryland.
There are a number of constraints that protect the process and, in some cases, make it more difficult. Our constitution says each district should consist of adjoining territory, be compact and contain substantially equal populations. It also provides that due regard be given to natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions.
Unfortunately, the geography of Maryland is not tidy. Within its boundaries is most of the Chesapeake Bay with its irregular shoreline, and the Western Maryland panhandle is joined to the rest of the state by a land bridge only 1.9 miles wide at one point. There are 23 counties of widely varying shapes, with populations that range from approximately 17,000 to 650,000, and the city of Baltimore, a political subdivision unique unto itself.
Developing a plan that satisfies the constitutional mandates in the face of these geographic obstacles, and that also considers such factors as communities of interest and the rights of minorities, involves not only accommodation and compromise, but also literally thousands of hours of studying maps and census data.
It is necessary, too, to remember that no legislative district can be created in a vacuum. Even the switching of a single precinct from one legislative district to another can have a ripple effect that extends far beyond
the districts immediately involved.
Gov. Harry Hughes last year appointed
a five-member bipartisan advisory com mission, including the presiding offi cers of each house, to recommend a
reapportionment plan to him. The
commission first divided the state into five geographic regions and determined the approximate number of districts each region's population warranted. It then developed preliminary internal plans within each region and meshed them into a statewide plan.
At both stages of its deliberations, the commission held well-advertised public hearings at which local officials, politicians, organizations, and private citizens were encouraged to--and did--present their ideas.
Upon receipt of the commission's final recommendations in early December, the governor publicized them throughout the state and conducted two additional hearings. With some changes, the governor presented his plan to the General Assembly on the first day of the 1982 session.
The Maryland Senate and House of Delegates also held hearings, not only on the governor's proposal, but also on legislatively generated plans and amendments. On Feb. 26 (the 45th day), the General Assembly adopted the governor's plan with some minor technical corrections and changes. The plan is now subject to judicial review in our highest court, the Court of Appeals.
It is said that a computer can devise an infinite number of plans to divide a state into constitutionally valid legislative districts. I have the greatest respect for the computer as a "super calculator"; however, the redistricting process and its result must be, as is almost everything else in the public arena, an accommodation of competing interests.
Reapportionment is--and cannot avoid being--a political process. And it is in Maryland. A number of individuals, including legislators and potential challengers, watched and participated in the process with great interest and used every opportunity to promote the plan that best protected their interests. But fortunately, and for a variety of reasons, Maryland has been free, for the most part, of partisan political jockeying.
It would be unrealistic to suggest that any reapportionment plan can be completely acceptable to all of Maryland's 4 million people. But the way Maryland does it much to commend it. It is a public process with ample opportunity for every person and group to be heard. In my opinion, it makes it possible to come up with a plan that passes constitutional tests, accommodates competing interests and provides for fair and equitable representation for the citizens of Maryland.