AUGUSTA, Maine — The Republicans’ plan to redraw Maine’s two congressional districts has Democrats on edge about the political fate of 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who has found himself the target of GOP robocalls this week criticizing his record.
As state Democrats and Republicans worked to find a compromise on congressional redistricting by week’s end, Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant on Tuesday questioned the timing of the robocalls. Those calls, paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee, claim that “Michaud is part of a group [in Washington] making a bad economy worse.”
Although there is no direct link between the Republicans’ efforts nationally to unseat Michaud and the congressional redistricting discussion in Maine, Grant said the GOP map is a not-so-thinly-veiled bulls-eye on the five-term Democrat.
“We might as well call this the ‘Kevin Raye Redistricting Plan,'” Grant said of the Republicans’ plan, which seeks to move Oxford and Androscoggin counties into the 1st District and Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc into the 2nd. “It’s no secret that state Senator Kevin Raye is planning to run against Congressman Michaud in the 2012 election. He knows he can’t win in the existing district, so now he’s working with extreme GOP leaders from Washington, D.C., to redraw the maps in his favor.”
Raye rejected the notion that the Republicans’ redistricting plan has anything to do with him.
“While I have made no decision about whether or not to seek public office in 2012, I am very flattered by the attention from Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant, who apparently views that possibility with great concern,” Raye said. “No matter the final district lines, I believe Maine’s independent streak will ensure that any election in Maine will continue to have the potential to be competitive.”
In 2002, Michaud and Raye squared off in a race for the open 2nd District seat. Michaud won, but only by about 8,000 votes. Among the communities that propelled Michaud to victory was heavily Democratic Lewiston, where he bested Raye by nearly 4,000 votes. That city that would move to the 1st District under the Republican plan.
Michaud’s spokesman, Ed Gilman, said the congressman is confident that the redistricting process would produce a fair result but declined to comment further.
Congressional redistricting is required every 10 years to match updated census data. Although the population of each district must be equal, obviously not everyone who is counted in a census can or will register to vote.
According to an analysis by the Bangor Daily News of active Maine voters provided by the Secretary of State’s Office as of Aug. 15, the 1st District would lose 2,085 Democrats and 10,780 Republicans under the GOP plan.
That means the 2nd District would see a net gain of 8,695 Republican voters, lower than the estimate offered by state Democrats on Monday but still significant.
Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster said the GOP plan addresses concerns he has heard for 40 years about the “Two Maines.” If that plan happens to add more Republicans to the 2nd District, it only corrects an imbalance that now exists, he said.
Of the 18 state Senate seats in the 2nd District, 14 are held by Republicans. A majority of the 75 state House seats in the 2nd District also are held by Republicans.
Jim Melcher, a political scientist at the University of Maine at Farmington, called the Republican plan “the most radical redistricting effort since the 1960s,” but also said it is likely a bargaining chip by the Republicans.
By comparison, the Democrats’ redistricting map that was presented Monday was simple: Move Vassalboro in Kennebec County from the 1st District to the 2nd District.
Republicans criticized that plan for protecting the status quo and the two sitting representatives, both of whom happen to be Democrats.
“The Democratic Party’s embrace of the status quo is noteworthy given that Maine voters sent a clear message last year rejecting the status quo in our state,” Raye said.
1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree has not been spared from the redistricting discussion. Under the Republicans’ plan, her hometown of North Haven would move from the 1st to the 2nd District. If that happens, the designation would be more symbolic than anything because a sitting representative is not required to live in his or her district although traditionally that has been the case.
Grant said the Republican redistricting plan in Maine is just the latest in a series of steps by the GOP to affect the 2012 elections.
“Across the country, we are seeing Republicans do everything and anything to rig the next elections — from voter suppression laws to radical redistricting plans — because they are desperate to win,” he said.
The political rhetoric could all be moot because Democrats and Republicans appointed to the redistricting commission have been working behind the scenes on a compromise plan before a public meeting next week.
Democrats said Monday that their goal is to disrupt, or move from one district to another, as few voters as possible. Republicans said they plan to hold firm to their charge of separating the two districts by just one voter.
Mark Brewer, a University of Maine political scientist, said it’s clear that both sides have partisan motivations.
“The only reason the Republicans’ effort looks more egregious is that it represents such a change from the status quo,” he said. “I’m sure there can be a compromise but who is going to be motivated to reach it? If I’m the Republicans, I’’m not terribly motivated to reach it. I’m saying to the Democrats, ‘You’re going to have to really come to me.’”
The bipartisan redistricting commission must present a plan to the Legislature by the end of August. The Legislature is scheduled to convene on Sept. 27 to vote on that plan.