Compromise reached on redistricting

Posted Wednesday, September 28, 2011 in News

Compromise reached on redistricting

The final reapportionment map, approved by a unanimous vote in the Maine legislature on Tuesday.

By Marian McCue

AUGUSTA -- After a long summer of wrangling over plans to redraw Maine’s Congressional districts, the Legislature compromised on a plan that would move only a few towns within Kennebec County.

The compromise plan moves Waterville and Winslow into the First Congressional District and puts Unity Township, Albion, Sidney, Belgrade, Rome, Vienna, Mount Vernon, Gardiner, West Gardiner, Monmouth and Randolph into the Second Congressional District.  It splits only Kennebec County and brings the population difference between the districts to a deviation of one.

The redistricting is required every ten years, to bring districts into line with the most recent census figures. The Legislature was under an order to get the job done this year, due to the sizeable variance that existed in population between the two districts. The Federal Court wanted the Legislature to get it done before the next Congressional election in 2012. Chellie Pingree of North Haven presently represents the First District, including the southern and coastal areas of the state, and Michael Michaud of Millinocket represents the Second District, which includes most of northern and western Maine as well as Lewiston and Auburn. The initial Republican plan would have moved Pingree’s North Haven home into the Second District.  
The compromise plan, which was passed Tuesday afternoon by large majorities in both Houses of the Legislature, was far different than that initially proposed by the Republicans. They had proposed dividing the state on a north-south line, rather than the east to west line that has existed for decades. The Republican plan would have moved around 360,000 residents from one district to another. The initial Democratic plan moved only the town of Vassalboro.

The Legislative Commission met over the summer, and couldn’t come to an agreement on the redistricting plan. They split along party lines, with the Independent Chairman of the Commission, Michael Friedman of Bangor, casting a deciding vote to move the Democratic party plan forward.

They continued to negotiate, but Republicans threatened to change current Maine law so they could pass their redistricting plan by a simple majority, rather than a two-thirds vote.

But indications are that some moderate Republicans would not go along with the plan to resort to a majority vote, and late Monday the two parties began to work on a compromise.

The need for compromise, and the apparent resistance of some Republicans to go along with the majority vote strategy, was spelled out by Sen. Christopher Rector (R-Knox) who told senators his “prayers were answered” with the tradition of consensus and a two-thirds vote being preserved.

Taking a slightly different view of events was Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Deborah Plowman, (R-Penobscot) who took a shot at the opposing party in a statement issued late Tuesday from the Republican Senate office. She noted that the plan had been offered in early August, but had met resistance from Democrats. The Republican compromise plans were not made public at the time.

 “If Democrats had been willing to accept this plan when we offered it six weeks ago, we could have avoided the protracted partisan disagreement that has dragged on for so long,” she said.

If the Republicans had persisted in their plan to use a majority vote, it would have put them at odds with a proposed amendment to Maine’s Constitution that would require a two-thirds vote for redistricting. That amendment has been sponsored by Republican legislators, and will be voted on this November.

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