Redistricting fight no less partisan as deadline looms

Posted Aug. 28, 2011, at 12:47 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 29, 2011, at 10:28 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Republicans and Democrats responsible for redrawing Maine’s congressional district lines are expected to meet for the final time this week, likely without a consensus in hand.

As Hurricane Irene prompted officials to move Monday’s redistricting commission meeting to Tuesday, leaders of both parties worked feverishly but unsuccessfully to find common ground.

Republicans on the redistricting commission said Friday that they have presented two different consensus maps in recent days that address previous concerns by Democrats.

The first map focused largely on shifting towns in Kennebec County, which would keep Androscoggin County in the 2nd District and keep Rep. Chellie Pingree’s hometown of North Haven in the 1st District.

Democrats apparently rejected that plan because it moves heavily Democratic Waterville from the 2nd District to the 1st District.

The Republican map that is now on the table addresses the Waterville concern and instead moves all of Androscoggin County into the 1st District, something that Democrats have opposed.

“I am disappointed that after presenting a compromise plan that resolved all of the Democrats’ concerns, they just said ‘no,’” said state Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport. “Unfortunately, when Maine needs leadership, the Democrats choose partisanship.”

Added Sen. Debra Plowman of Hampden: “Throughout this process, Republicans on the reapportionment committee have demonstrated a willingness to work with Democrats, only to have our reasonable consensus proposals rejected.”

The two plans submitted publicly by the Democrats focus on moving communities in Kennebec County. The first plan simply moves Vassalboro from the 1st to the 2nd District. The second plan shifts a handful of Kennebec County towns in an attempt to equalize that population.

Republicans have said those maps simply maintain the status quo and protect the districts of Pingree and 2nd District Rep. Mike Michaud, who happen to both be 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 Districts is 8,669 people. In order to make the districts equal, about 4,300 voters must be shifted from the 1st to the 2nd.

Republicans also said Democrats still have not produced a map that meets the standards of a federal court order to divide Maine’s two congressional districts as evenly as possible with a deviation of one voter.

Sen. Seth Goodall of Richmond, the Democrats’ lead negotiator on redistricting, said his party plans to release a map before Tuesday’s meeting that addresses the one-voter concern while still focusing solely on Kennebec County.

“The notion that we’re unwilling to compromise is false,” he said Sunday. “But we can’t support a plan that displaces a significant amount of Maine voters.”

Democrats have criticized Republicans for trying to politicize this process to help their party. Every plan offered so far by the Republicans would make the 2nd District more competitive by shifting conservative voters.

The first GOP plan sought to move Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties into the 1st District and Oxford and Androscoggin counties into the 2nd. According to an analysis by the Bangor Daily News, that shift would add an estimated 8,700 Republicans to the 2nd District.

The current plan submitted by Republicans would add less, Goodall said, but he estimated the GOP still would net about 3,000 voters in the 2nd District.

At a public hearing last week, commission members heard testimony from about 50 Mainers and most supported the Democrats’ plans.

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.

If legislators cannot find common ground, the matter will be decided in court.

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