EDITORIALS

GOP restraint on redistricting the right course

Posted Oct. 05, 2011, at 6:45 p.m.

Restraint, like compromise, has gotten a bad name in politics lately. But Republican lawmakers in Augusta last week showed why both are still the best way to move forward.

Republicans could have, as expected, pushed through a radical redrawing of the state’s congressional district boundaries during the late September special legislative session. They chose not to. This will serve them well.

Forced by a lawsuit to more quickly redraw the boundaries between Maine’s 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts, legislative leaders created a committee — made up of seven Republicans, seven Democrats and an independent chairman — to do this work.

Republicans presented a plan that significantly changed the lines. The districts were changed from a north-south orientation to one that is more east-west. Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties would be moved from the 1st to the 2nd District. Oxford and part of Franklin County would move from the 2nd to the 1st, as would Lewiston and Auburn. About 360,000 people were moved from one district to the other.

Current 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree’s home island of North Haven would move from the 1st District to the 2nd, which is represented by Mike Michaud. Both are Democrats.

The early plan presented by Democrats moved the Kennebec County town of Vassalboro from the 1st District to the 2nd.

The redistricting committee endorsed the Democratic plan. Republican leaders said they would continue to push ahead with their plan. They would even change legislative rules to do so.

They won the majority in the Legislature, they argued. And, the Democrats rammed through budgets using similar parliamentary maneuvers.

Although a tired cliche, “two wrongs don’t make a right” was the only response to such logic.

In the end, Republican leaders decided to do the right thing and, frankly, avoid putting some GOP legislators in the difficult position of choosing between toeing the party line and representing their constituents.

At the last minute, they came forward with a plan that moved several towns in Kennebec County. Waterville and Winslow will move from the 2nd District to the 1st District, while the following towns shift from the 1st to the 2nd: Sidney, Monmouth, Belgrade, Mount Vernon, Rome, Vienna, Albion, Unity Township, Randolph, Gardiner and West Gardiner.

This plan was approved 35-0 in the state Senate and 140-3 in the House.

Although commentators made compelling arguments that the Republicans should have been bold and stuck with their original plan, the compromise sets the appropriate tone for the next legislative session, which begins in January.

“We can now look forward to January and the possibility of more compromise on important issues that matter to Mainers,” said Republican Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport, who served on the redistricting commission.

Republicans in Augusta have a lot of power. Using that power judiciously can help ensure they retain it.

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