EDITORIALS

Republicans have the muscle, but using it on district map is bully behavior

In this June 9, 2011 photo, the State House is seen in Augusta.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
In this June 9, 2011 photo, the State House is seen in Augusta.
Posted Sept. 23, 2011, at 5:29 p.m.

For more than 40 years, Maine Republicans have had their noses pressed to the cold side of the window pane, looking inside at Democrats who often controlled both houses of the Legislature and, for 24 years of the last 45, also held the Blaine House. Now that the GOP controls both the Legislature and the Blaine House, the temptation to remake the political landscape — quite literally — must be powerful.

But by imposing a very different configuration of the state’s two congressional districts, as many in the majority party are said to be planning, the Republicans will have abused the trust voters have place in them.

Their plan, according to many close to the action, is to vote Tuesday by a simple majority to adopt their map of the districts. State law requires a two-thirds legislative vote to adopt a new congressional district map. Republicans may waive, ignore or change that requirement.

The district map is required to be evaluated every 10 years to ensure that there is an equal population in the two districts.

Clearly, the GOP plan forces a square-peg solution into a round-hole problem. The party’s version would move Lincoln, Knox and Sagadahoc counties from the 1st District to the 2nd District, and moved Oxford and Androscoggin counties from the 2nd District to the 1st District. Franklin County would be split between the districts (as Kennebec County is now divided).

In all, it would shift a quarter of the state’s voters from one district to the other.

The Republican version of the map was not supported by the one independent member of the commission charged with arriving at a consensus. And the vast majority of people who testified on the redistricting process favored the Democratic plan.

The Democrats’ plan would move only the Kennebec County towns of Gardiner, Vassalboro, Vienna, Rome and Unity Township to the 2nd District and Oakland and Wayne to the 1st District.

Political observers have no shortage of motives which they suspect are driving the Republicans in this fight. They want to displace the Democratic 1st District Member of Congress Chellie Pingree from her hometown of North Haven. They want to make the 2nd District more conservative so they can defeat the incumbent Democratic Member of Congress, Mike Michaud.

Perhaps the most powerful motive is one that is part of a national Republican agenda which would help the GOP presidential nominee win an electoral college vote in Maine’s 2nd District. Maine, along with Nebraska, does not have a winner-takes-all electoral process, so if the 2nd District is more conservative, it could be won by a Republican.

Republicans defend their version, saying they are ending the “two Maines” divide by creating more heterogeneous districts. Such an argument is disingenuous, doing little to cloak the obvious political gamesmanship at work.

If Republicans go with a majority vote next week and win, their congressional district configuration will likely be overturned by a court panel, leaving them with an embarrassing political loss. If somehow their version survives, they will have angered many of their constituents and weakened their chances of building the changes in state government about which they say they are truly passionate.

Republicans must do the right thing. If they can’t whip up a two-thirds majority, they don’t deserve to write the map. Less partisan thinking must rule.

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