AUGUSTA, Maine — In the end, after spending weeks at odds and sniping at each other through the media, Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday approved a compromise on redrawing the state’s two congressional districts.
The final votes in the House (140-3) and Senate (35-0) were well above the two-thirds majority needed, but the compromise was largely ironed out late Monday after Republicans offered a new redistricting map at the 11th hour that Democrats decided they could live with.
The plan for redrawing the lines separating Maine’s two congressional districts now affects only Kennebec County.
Waterville and Winslow 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.
Two of the nay votes in the House belonged to Reps. Henry Beck and Thomas Longstaff, both Democrats from Waterville. The other was Rep. James Parker, R-Veazie.
Beck said his biggest concern was not that his community is being moved, but that the compromise plan never got a public hearing.
Most lawmakers, though, were pleased that a deal was reached.
Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, who served on the redistricting commission, said the compromise was a win-win and avoided a nasty battle that didn’t need to happen.
“We can now look forward to January and the possibility of more compromise on important issues that matter to Mainers,” he said.
“The new plan is consistent with what Democrats have been proposing all along and what the Maine people said they wanted,” said House Minority Leader Emily Cain of Orono. “It is a simple solution that keeps communities of interest together and disrupts a minimal amount of people and towns.”
The bill now goes to Gov. Paul LePage for his signature or veto. His spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said late Tuesday the governor was still reviewing the compromise plan.
The compromise comes only a few days after Republicans threatened to push forward their initial plan, dubbed the “Western Maine plan,” which many felt was a seismic shift.
That plan would have moved Lincoln, Knox and Sagadahoc counties from the 1st District to the 2nd District and Oxford and Androscoggin counties from the 2nd to the 1st.
Kennebec County would have been contained entirely in the 2nd District and Franklin County would have been divided between the two.
Among other things, that GOP plan would have shifted 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.
“I’m pleased to see that Augusta didn’t turn into Washington. Mainers want compromise, and that’s what they got with this plan,” Michaud said late Tuesday in response to the compromise plan. “While I’m disappointed to lose a number of Kennebec County communities, including Waterville, we’re really one Maine at the end of the day.”
Pingree also expressed gratitude for what she called “a reasonable plan that was not unnecessarily disruptive.”
The compromise plan that passed Tuesday still shifts as many as 2,500 Republicans into the 2nd District, but Democrats said it was a number they could live with.
Congressional redistricting is mandated for states every 10 years to reflect updated census data. The process in Maine began earlier than usual because of a court order.
Maine has two congressional districts: The 1st District, made up largely of the populated southern Maine counties around Portland and represented by Democrat Chellie Pingree, and the 2nd District, which encompasses the balance of rural Maine, 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 they planned to vote on their divisive Western Maine plan Tuesday and sought only simple majority approval instead of the typical two-thirds, a move which would have required a temporary suspension of rules.
Both sides were ultimately glad that didn’t happen.
“The people of Maine rejected the GOP’s extreme partisan plan and their bully approach,” said Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, who served on the bipartisan redistricting commission. “We are glad we were able to cut a deal even if it was late in the game. Democrats have always favored compromising around a simple solution.”
Fredette said even though his party had the votes on the Western Maine plan, he and his colleagues did not want to subject the plan to a court challenge or a people’s veto.
Sen. Christopher Rector, R-Thomaston, said redistricting is as partisan a process as legislators undertake, but he said he felt like the compromise was “an answered prayer.”
Although lawmakers ultimately avoided the possibility of a simple majority vote, in about a month and a half, a two-thirds vote on congressional redistricting plans may become mandatory.
Maine voters will decide a constitutional amendment that seeks to change the schedule for congressional redistricting and 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 many Republican lawmakers.
To see a large map of Maine’s new congressional districts, visit http://bdn.to/districts.