GOP holds firm on redistricting plan, Democrats barely budge

Posted Aug. 19, 2011, at 5:37 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — As Democrats presented a slightly different plan for congressional redistricting than what was presented on Monday, Republicans held firm Friday to their original idea that would redraw the lines in a substantial way.

Earlier this week, the two parties presented plans that were miles apart. They have been working ever since to find compromise.

Democrats criticized the Republicans’ initial plan, which splits the state more from east to west than north to south, as a radical shift that serves only to make the 2nd District more competitive for the GOP. Republicans criticized the Democrats’ original map, which moves only one town, Vassalboro, for protecting the status quo and two sitting representatives who happen to both be Democrats.

Although both parties have said publicly that their goal is to keep politics out of the discussion, few things are more fiercely partisan than redistricting and political posturing has dominated the debate.

The Democrats’ new plan that was released Friday would shift the Kennebec County towns of Unity Township, China, Vassalboro, Rome and Albion into the 2nd District and move Oakland and Wayne, also in Kennebec County, into the 1st District.

That plan would shrink the population difference between the two districts to three people and would move about 19,000 from one district to another.

Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, a member of the state’s redistricting commission, said the new plan is a good-faith effort to compromise with Republicans but it also meets the Democrats’ goal of disrupting as few voters as possible.

Dan Billings, a Republican member of the redistricting commission and Gov. Paul LePage’s chief legal counsel, said he did not expect the GOP to unveil a new plan before next week, if at all.

“We’ve had some conversations about working toward a compromise. We have shown other possibilities to the Democrats, some of which they are more interested in than others,” he said.

Billings said even if the Republicans released a new plan between now and next Tuesday, any alternative would generate similar complaints from Democrats.

“We’re comfortable with the proposal we have out there,” he said.

As for the Democrats’ alternative, Republicans said it simply does not meet their top criteria of dividing Maine’s population as equally as possible, which to them means a deviation of one person.

“It’s unfortunate that they have continued to offer proposals that don’t meet the requirements,” Billings said. “There are many different possibilities that get you to a deviation of one. I’ve always thought the Dems were mathematically challenged. This seems to support that.”

Goodall said the Republicans’ insistence on getting to a deviation of one is short-sighted. Yes, that’s important, he said, but not at the expense of other considerations.

A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 23, for consideration of the plans that have been put forth by both sides. The redistricting commission must present a recommendation to the Legislature by Aug. 31. The Legislature will then vote on a plan during a Sept. 27 special session.

Maine has two congressional districts: the 1st District, represented by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, and the 2nd District, represented by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, both Democrats. Every decade, states are required to reapportion the districts to reflect updated census numbers and the process is under way earlier than ever this time thanks to a federal court order.

Based on the 2010 census, the population difference between the 1st and 2nd District is 8,669 people. In order to make the districts equal, about 4,300 voters must be shifted from the 1st to the 2nd.

The original Republicans’ plan as presented Monday would move Lincoln, Knox and Sagadahoc counties from the 1st District to the 2nd District and move Oxford and Androscoggin counties from the 2nd to the 1st. Additionally, Kennebec County would be contained in the 2nd District and Franklin County would be divided between the two.

Among other things, the GOP plan would shift one-quarter of the state’s voters from one district to the other and would place Pingree’s hometown of North Haven squarely in the 2nd District.

That plan also would have added a net of 8,700 registered Republicans to the 2nd District, 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.

More importantly to Democrats, heavily Democratic Lewiston would move to the 1st District and would be replaced by more conservative communities in Lincoln, Knox and Kennebec counties.

In 2002, Michaud beat Republican challenger Kevin Raye by about 9,000 votes for the 2nd District seat, including by a 4,000-vote margin in Lewiston. Raye, who is president of the state Senate, could be a candidate against Michaud in the 2012 election.

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