DAVID FARMER

Still time for redistricting compromise

Posted Sept. 21, 2011, at 3:37 p.m.

Time and again I have been amazed at the ability of the Legislature and the governor — any governor, really — to find enough common ground to work through difficult issues together. That has been the norm in Maine.

During my time in Augusta, important public policy ranging from the growth and development of alternative energy to the state budget to bonds and investments were achieved through overwhelming bipartisan votes.

Through the worst recession in a lifetime, state budgets have earned two-thirds support, including this year as new Republican majorities in the Legislature have been paired with a new Republican governor.

Of course, not all votes are destined for bipartisanship. Some have been forced through on pure political muscle. It was true when Democrats were in power and it’s true now.

Next Tuesday, the Legislature, in special session, will take up Congressional redistricting.

The safe money is that Republicans will ignore precedent and their own commitment to a two-thirds vote and try to ram a radical redistricting plan down Democratic throats.

A number of prominent Republicans have argued that reshaping the congressional districts is little more than changing an imaginary line on a map. But the vigor with which this fight has been waged shines a light on that deception.

The stakes could be nothing less than the White House and control of Congress, with a pinch of vindictiveness targeted at Rep. Chellie Pingree thrown in for good measure.

The Republican plan would move 360,000 people and almost 140 communities from one district to the other and put Rep. Mike Michaud and Pingree in the same district.

It would also break up Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties, pushing Lewiston into the same district as Portland. The proposal is even causing a lot of consternation among Republicans from those areas who know that the move will be bad for their communities.

The standard procedure for redistricting in Maine has required a two-thirds vote or a visit to the court house, and earlier this year Republicans spearheaded a constitutional amendment that would codify that practice.

But after the vote on the bipartisan redistricting committee went against them, there are rumblings that they’ll change the rules this year, pass the new plan with a simple majority and force their will on the state.

It’s a dangerous overreach and clear hypocrisy.

Republicans can ignore the law this time simply by rewriting it. It might make good politics, but it would be terrible public policy. And I believe voters will see right through it.

Call me naive, but I still believe that most members of the Legislature take public service and their personal honor seriously, and that they will only bend so far to please the uber-partisans who put winning above all else.

To those members, compromise is a lifeline out of a difficult situation. But it’s not always the easiest decision to make. Some of your most ardent supporters will be angry, while your political opponents quickly forget your actions.

I believe compromise is still possible and that it’s in the interest of everyone to find a way to make it happen.

If consensus can be reached on something as complicated and with such broad implications as the state budget, surely there is a path forward on redistricting.

While I didn’t agree with many of the policy initiatives that were passed by the Republicans this year, I’m certain that they are proud of what they have done.

And I’m just as certain that they would have preferred to spend the political off-season talking about tax policy, health insurance, fireworks, personal liberty, guns and regulations.

Instead, they’re trying to defend a gerrymandered political map during a special legislative session.

Voters want political leaders who can solve problems, not create them out of whole cloth. This is a political showdown that should be avoided.

Just a handful of moderates could stop this train wreck in the making. I am hopeful that there are still men and women in the Legislature who haven’t been seduced by hyper-partisanship and who have the courage to stand up to party enforcers.

Otherwise, I fear that the gridlock that has crippled Washington and many other states and once led to a government shutdown in Maine will finally have made its way back here. If it does, we’ll be dealing with the consequences for years to come.

David Farmer is a political and media consultant. He was formerly deputy chief of staff and communications director for Gov. John E. Baldacci and a longtime journalist. He is currently working on the Yes on 1 campaign. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @dfarmer14.

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