June 23, 2018
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Compromise looking likely on congressional redistricting

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Hoping to avoid a bitter floor fight and the possibility of a narrow partisan vote on Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats worked into the evening Monday on a congressional redistricting scenario that both parties could support.

By 8 p.m., representatives from each party indicated that a compromise was looking more and more likely.

Earlier in the day, Senate President Kevin Raye and House Speaker Robert Nutting put back on the table two alternative maps the had been discussed during the redistricting process.

The first alternative — and the one likely to produce a compromise — is the Republicans’ “Kennebec County map,” which moves towns just within that county and shifts Waterville from the 2nd to the 1st District.

The second alternative focuses on moving towns within Androscoggin County, specifically shifting Lewiston-Auburn from the 2nd to the 1st District.

Democrats had opposed the second option as recently as a month ago, indicating that it was designed to move more populated Democratic towns into the 1st District while replacing them in the 2nd District with more Republican-leaning towns.

The Kennebec County plan had been shown to Democrats privately during the process but was never vetted by the public.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Debra Plowman said Monday that the two alternatives were offered in the spirit of compromise, but she added that if the Democrats don’t go along with one of those plans, here party would vote on their original plan during Tuesday’s special legislative session.

The initial GOP plan, dubbed the “Western Maine plan,” represents a much more dramatic shift. It moves Lincoln, Knox and Sagadahoc counties from the 1st District to the 2nd District and moves Oxford and Androscoggin counties from the 2nd to the 1st.

Kennebec County would be contained entirely in the 2nd District and Franklin County would be divided between the two.

Among other things, that GOP plan would shift one-quarter of the state’s voters from one district to the other and would move more than 8,000 Republicans into the 2nd District. Some Democrats have called the plan the “Kevin Raye plan” because the Perry lawmaker is rumored to be challenging 2nd District Rep. Mike Michaud in 2012.

After the Republicans released their alternative plans Monday, Democrats worked throughout the day to convince members of their caucus to support the Kennebec County plan, according to Jodi Quintero, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Emily Cain.

Although a deal wasn’t sealed late Monday, Quintero said it looked likely that enough Democrats would support the plan to ensure a two-thirds majority in the Legislature.

Similarly, Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, a member of the redistricting commission, said he believed enough Republicans would support the GOP’s Kennebec County alternative.

Congressional redistricting is mandated for states every 10 years to reflect updated census data.

Maine has two congressional districts: The 1st District, made up largely of the populated southern Maine counties around Portland, is represented by Democrat Chellie Pingree. The 2nd District, which encompasses the balance of rural Maine, is represented by Mike Michaud, also a Democrat.

A bipartisan commission has been working since July to come up with a plan to redraw the political lines and the debate has taken on a sharp partisan tone at times.

Last Friday, Republicans indicated that they planned to vote on their divisive Western Maine plan Tuesday and planned to do so with a simple majority.

Around the same time the Republicans released their alternatives, moderate House Democrats called on the public to convince the GOP not to ram through their radical map with a party-line vote.

Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth, was one of the co-sponsors of a constitutional amendment to change the schedule for congressional redistricting and to require two-thirds of the Legislature to endorse any new congressional district map.

That amendment was sponsored by Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, and championed by Republican lawmakers. Graham said the Republicans can’t support an amendment requiring two-thirds support and then pass their plan with a simple majority.

Because it is a constitutional amendment, that bill must be approved by Maine voters and a question will be on the November ballot, about a month and a half too late.

Already, at least one group has indicated a possible referendum challenge should the Republicans pass their congressional reapportionment plan.

Ed Schlick, executive director of the Maine People’s Voting Coalition, said over the weekend that his group would help lead a people’s veto effort if need be.

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