Mainers Speak Out on Congressional Redistricting
Despite a beautiful August day yesterday, a public hearing at the State House drew a strong turnout of Mainers hoping to influence the bipartisan congressional redistricting committee as it considers competing plans for redrawing Maine’s political map.
The plans could hardly be more different. The Democratic map moves only a single town (or, in their compromise proposal, a handful of towns), meeting the requirements of the process with minimal disruption of congressional districts that have remained largely the same since they were created in 1961.
The Republican plan, on the other hand, represents a significant departure from the status quo, moving more than 350,000 voters from one district to another and changing the representation of all or part of seven counties.
Public opinion as expressed at the hearing ran strongly against the Republican plan, with a large majority of speakers opposing what they often termed a radical shift in representation. Among them were residents of the Midcoast, who objected to being moved into the Second District, and residents of the Lewiston/Auburn area, who objected to being lumped in with Portland in the First District.
Republican committee members didn’t seem interested in hearing the public criticism of their plan, and at times only a single GOP member of the committee remained in the room with the seven Democrats to hear comments.
The position of the Republicans at this point is murky. According to committee members from both parties, GOP negotiators recently proposed a compromise plan that would have focused on moving only a few towns in Kennebec County while still achieving their political objective of packing more Republicans into the Second District. According to Republican committee member Senator Debra Plowman, the Republicans withdrew the plan after Democrats called it a “good start” instead of accepting it in its entirety. Plowman declined to present any compromise plan at Tuesday’s hearing and said her party was no longer willing to compromise at all on certain aspects of their plan, including the moving of Androscoggin County into the First District.
Fellow Republican committee member Representative Ken Fredette disagreed, however, saying that everything was still on the table.
I live-tweeted yesterday’s hearing, as did several other bloggers and journalists with too much time on their hands. You can view a compendium of the play-by-play here, thanks to Dirigo Blue. You can also read my column on what the GOP plan could mean for Lewiston/Auburn here.
At this point, it seems that it will be difficult for the committee to reach a compromise or to create a plan that will garner the two-thirds support in the Legislature that is currently required (although there's talk that Republicans might attempt to unilaterally change the rules requiring that level of support).
If a compromise can’t be reached, the issue will be decided by the courts.
Can’t get enough redistricting? Test your gerrymandering skills by playing a few rounds of the Redistricting Game, an online app created by the Annenberg school to teach the basics of the Congressional redistricting process. Despite that description, it’s incredibly fun.