GOP plan would put Androscoggin County in 1st District

Posted Aug. 28, 2011, at 5:46 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican lawmakers say they’ll unveil a new compromise map when the Legislature’s bipartisan reapportionment commission meets Tuesday to vote on proposals that redraw boundaries for Maine’s congressional districts.

The GOP announced Friday evening that the new proposal was designed to appease Democrats’ concerns, including keeping Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s hometown of North Haven in the 1st Congressional District and Democratic-leaning Waterville in the 2nd District.

But one of the proposals, moving Androscoggin County into the 1st District, could be a deal-breaker for Democrats.

The GOP claims Democrats rejected a second proposal that kept Androscoggin County in the 2nd District. However, that proposal was never made public because Republicans withdrew it from consideration moments before the public hearing.

Democrats said they believed the two parties were close to a consensus on the second proposal, which focuses on redrawing district boundaries within Kennebec County. However, Democrats said they wanted the map publicly vetted before coming to an agreement with the GOP.

On Friday, the GOP again claimed that Democrats had spurned the second map because it would have put Waterville in the 1st District. Democrats have acknowledged that moving Waterville into the 1st District could hurt 2nd District Rep. U.S. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, in 2012.

However, Democrats claim that Waterville was lower on their list of priorities than keeping Androscoggin County in the 2nd District.

Similarly, Republicans have long eyed moving Androscoggin County, and Lewiston-Auburn in particular, into the 1st District because the region has factored into several of Michaud’s successful election bids.

While the GOP in 2003 attempted to move Androscoggin, Democrats have described the recent attempt as “Raye-districting.” That’s because moving Androscoggin County presumably would increase the chances for Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, to defeat Michaud in 2012.

Raye, who has expressed interest in a congressional run, lost to Michaud in 2002 by about 9,000 votes. More than half of that margin was in Androscoggin County.

But some argue that GOP plans to move Androscoggin County is shortsighted. The county was in the 2nd District during a Republican’s 22-year reign there. Additionally, the GOP has had success in Lewiston-Auburn, as former U.S. Reps. Olympia Snowe and William Cohen made the region the focus of successful campaign efforts.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage also carried the region when he was elected in 2010.

Nonetheless, it appears that keeping Androscoggin County in the 2nd District is off the table in the latest GOP proposal. According to Friday’s press release, the move reflected “popular sentiment that the Lewiston-Auburn area identifies more with southern Maine than the north.”

It’s unclear how the GOP is measuring that sentiment. Last week the Sun Journal interviewed nearly a dozen Republican lawmakers who said GOP leadership had not been consulting the caucus on the redistricting plans.

Nearly all said they were willing to support the Androscoggin County move, but most said they would also go along with an alternative if so ordered by leadership.

However, Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, a member of the redistricting commission and Senate majority whip, said last week she had spoken with several members who were strident in their desire for the Androscoggin County move.

While congressional races could be affected by the redistricting plan, the remapping process could also factor into the 2012 presidential race.

Maine has four electoral votes in the Electoral College, but it divies up its electoral votes differently from most states. Most states award the winner of the statewide popular vote all of its electoral votes.

Maine is one of two states that award electoral votes through the Congressional District Method, distributing electoral votes based on the popular vote winner within each congressional district. The winner of the statewide popular vote receives two additional electoral votes.

In recent presidential elections, Maine’s electoral votes have gone to Democratic presidential candidates. However, that dynamic could change in 2012 if the GOP is successful in making the 2nd District a Republican stronghold.

Details of the GOP’s latest map were scarce. The party claimed that a “minimal number of residents are affected” in the new proposal but offered no specifics.

The GOP promised to reveal more details Tuesday.

While the two sides had agreed last week to shelve some of the partisan rhetoric, on Friday the GOP claimed Democrats had rejected the second compromise and “moved the goal posts.”

“I am disappointed that after presenting a compromise plan that resolved all of the Democrats’ concerns, they just said ‘no,’” Rep. Ken Fredette, who serves on the commission, said in Friday’s press release. “Unfortunately, when Maine needs leadership, the Democrats choose partisanship.”

Democrats so far have not commented on the new proposal.

To see more from the Sun Journal, visit sunjournal.com.

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