Connecticut's Redistricting News
Courant: "Whoís Afraid of Reapportionment?" October 20, 2001
Despite some reassuring murmuring from the Democratic side of the aisle that the process of reapportionment in Connecticut is moving along just fine, in truth it isn't moving along at all. Not even a little.
The legislative Reapportionment Committee has given way to a Reapportionment Commission, which will soon give way to a Reapportionment Commission with a designated mediator whose job it will be to slap around the recalcitrant politicians and force them to play nice and carve up the state's local and congressional political jurisdictions in a way that does no serious violence to common sense or the Constitution. That won't work, either.
The mess will then be shipped off to the Connecticut Supreme Court, which would rather contract German measles than spend an extended period of time fussing with reapportionment. The high court will probably appoint a special master, who will be sent to a tiny office with no windows and told not to come out until he carves up the state as God would have intended.
If this slow progress toward perfect democracy isn't keeping you up at night, well, that's the point. This is the ultimate insider baseball, with the pols in secret deadlock about which incumbents will be thrown into competition against each other - and which "safe" seats will be made somewhat less safe.
The carving up of congressional districts - shrinking them from six to five - hasn't even been talked about yet by the commission. They're still working on the state House and Senate districts - and the negotiations are stalled.
One might think the Democrats don't have much to fear; they've whipped the GOP rather well in recent years in legislative races. But with folks in the Democratic cities escaping to the suburbs, there is going to be pressure to reduce the legislative seats in these safe Democratic districts and add some to the suburban areas, where they at least haven't put Republicans on the endangered species list.
Hartford may well lose a House seat, but if Rep. David Pudlin doesn't run again, as has been widely speculated, that's an incumbent slot that could disappear without undue pain. Bridgeport, with arguably the worst legislative delegation in the state, should lose a seat - and add to the quality of the General Assembly in the process. New Britain may also lose a seat.
Most of the rest is the typical reapportionment stuff: trying to protect incumbents, arguing over carving up towns that may or may not have a special affinity for one another.
The congressional redistricting is in some ways the easiest task and in some ways the hardest. Chris Shays in Republican Fairfield County is never going to lose, no matter what you do to the district lines. Rosa DeLauro doesn't even have to wake up to win in the New Haven area; losing a few Democrats wouldn't affect her chances. And John Larson is safe in the Hartford area - although, if he were forced to run against Nancy Johnson from New Britain and points north and west, he would at least have to perspire.
The popular wisdom suggests that either Jim Maloney's Waterbury-Danbury district or Rob Simmons' Eastern Connecticut district will be targeted for extermination. If Maloney has to face Nancy Johnson in a newly configured district, he would probably lose his seat to her. If the Democrats want to get even with that possibility, they could throw a reliable Democratic city into Simmons' district, making it difficult for him to win a second term.
One of the odd, subtle premises of the entire redistricting process doesn't get talked about with any pride in the civics classrooms: Most voters are predictable sheep, voting in the future as they have voted in the past, voting for political parties in much the same proportion as their parents before them, voting for incumbents with name recognition. The political scientists note that with the exception of a small percentage of older white men with college degrees, most voters go to the polls with less knowledge or interest than they have when buying a new car.
Reapportionment is of most interest to those who play the game. In Connecticut, the game will be played to a draw and, eventually, the Supreme Court will bless the new checkerboard. Life will go on.
Laurence D. Cohen is a senior fellow at the Yankee Institute for Public Policy in Hartford and a public-relations consultant. His column appears every Sunday and every other Thursday. To leave him a comment, please call 860-241-3643.
With time running out, lawmakers on the state's Reapportionment Commission on Monday tapped Nelson Brown, a former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, to help them meet a Nov. 30 deadline to redraw legislative and congressional district boundaries.
Brown, 79, of Glastonbury, will serve as the ninth member of the reapportionment panel, which has seven weeks to complete its work or risk the state Supreme Court taking over the job. Brown had served in the same role during the last redistricting in 1991. Lawmakers praised him Monday as a diligent mediator who would be able to help the four Democrats and four Republicans meet their deadline.
"This is a tough job," said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin B. Sullivan, one of the Democrats on the panel, who added that he remains hopeful that lawmakers will reach agreement.
After more than four months of work, the eight-member panel conceded last month that it could not reach an accord on how to redraw state House, Senate or congressional lines by the initial deadline of Sept. 15. That delay triggered the naming of a ninth member.
On Monday, lawmakers said they had made only limited progress in the last month on legislative districts, and had yet to begin seriously tackling the biggest task: consolidating six congressional districts into five, a change necessitated by population shifts in the 2000 Census.
Sullivan said he was hopeful that there would be "some sort of exchange of plans" between Democrats and Republicans by early next week on congressional redistricting. Previously, lawmakers had hoped to finish the state legislative boundaries first, then work on congressional lines.
House leaders have said their progress has been hampered by differences of opinion on whether some urban areas should lose a seat and, if so, how the new districts should be configured. Some lawmakers, including House Speaker Moira K. Lyons, co-chairwoman of the panel, have said it is virtually certain that Hartford, which has lost about 16,000 residents since 1990, will lose a district.
On the Senate side, negotiations have been stalled because of a disagreement between Republicans, who want to keep voting districts intact, and Democrats, who don't accept that as a mandate. Sullivan said he believes the two sides will be able to work out that dispute.
Meanwhile, on congressional districts, members in both parties have said they are leaning toward breaking up the 5th District and merging parts of it with the 6th and 4th districts. Under that scenario, 5th District U.S. Rep. James H. Maloney, a Democrat, could end up running against 6th District U.S. Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, a Republican, next year.
The last time the courts had to take over redistricting from lawmakers was in 1972. In the last redistricting in 1991, the commission reached agreement on a plan just one day before the November deadline.
Brown, who was speaker of the House in 1957-58, is a part-time lobbyist on freedom of information issues.
Since the terrorist attacks a month ago, reapportionment hardly seems so important. Yet, the decennial process of redrawing congressional, state Senate and state House district lines following the results of the national census is once more upon us.
What's different about Connecticut is our state constitutional process. In most states, redistricting is a completely partisan process driven by the party in power. In Connecticut, a completely bipartisan commission of eight legislators and a ninth citizen member have until Nov. 30 to agree on a constitutionally valid plan. Failing that, the decision-making passes from the public's representatives into the hands of the state Supreme Court.
So, where are we and why is it important? In simple terms, state legislative redistricting is like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle except every piece affects every other piece. Move a state Senate line in Hartford to match population shifts, and it ripples through all 36 districts to the far corners of the state. Harder still, the partisan refusal at the federal level to adjust widespread undercounting in the census will cost Connecticut a seat in Congress. As a result, congressional redistricting this time is a kind of musical chairs that will leave two of our current members of Congress facing off for one seat in the fall.
It's no wonder, then, that, just like every other redistricting in the past 30 years, it's always easier said than done and far from done today. That's also because there are fundamental principles at stake that go to the core of our democracy. First, and above all, the federal and state constitutional standard of "one person, one vote" means drawing districts that are as nearly equal in population as possible.
All else, from incumbency to the subsequent location of polling places within our towns, must yield to this most fundamental measure of fairness.
Second, congressional and legislative districting should reflect real "communities of interest" that people share in terms of where and how they live, and that offer opportunities to elect a body of officials who resemble the diversity of our state. That also means a proportionality that reflects the actual partisan affiliation of our voters. That's a far cry from the old days when Connecticut's "one town, two votes" partisan districting guaranteed Republican domination long after the party lost its dominance in voter registration to Democrats. Whether inner city, suburb or small town, all are entitled to have a voice in proportion to their number, not their status, and a voice that is neither packed in a few districts or watered down in too many.
Third, we should try as much as possible not to divide towns, which are the one geopolitical community of interest afforded recognition by our state Constitution. Still, even this principle is constitutionally secondary to the rule of "one-person, one vote." By contrast, there is no constitutional, legal or even practical community of interest that justifies, as some may assert, undermining "one person, one vote" for the purely political and administrative convenience of voting districts or polling places.
Finally, there is that oldest of political animals to be avoided, the "gerrymander." This does not mean that incumbency or partisanship are impermissible factors in redistricting, only that districts should be more compact than less, more connected than stretched, and should not run roughshod over community connections or natural boundaries.
Our challenge in redistricting is far from easy. We must start with who we are and where we live as the people of Connecticut, but then divide and join in ways that give the fullest and fairest voice to our democracy. We do this as individual partisans striving for a bipartisan result that empowers every voter equally, respects every community of interest and fairly reflects the actual partisan preferences of Connecticut's registered voters - not the preferences of those of us who do the redistricting.
Kevin Sullivan, a Democrat, is president pro tempore of the state Senate and a member of the General Assembly's redistricting committee.
Former House Speaker Brown Again To Lead Redistricting Panel
By Matthew Daly
September 26, 2001
Former House Speaker Nelson Brown likely will be named as the ninth and deciding member of a commission charged with redrawing the state's political boundaries, legislative leaders said Wednesday.
Brown, 79, a Republican from Glastonbury, served as speaker in the late 1950s and was the ninth member on the state's redistricting panel a decade ago.
He emerged as the consensus choice for a second go-round after several Democratic candidates were ruled out or declined, lawmakers said. Former Democratic speakers Thomas Ritter and Richard Balducci - both of whom are now lobbyists - were among those who had been considered for the redistricting post.
Brown also is a lobbyist, but has only one client, the nonprofit Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information.
His selection will not be official until an eight-member commission appointed by Gov. John G. Rowland holds its first meeting, expected early next month. The panel includes four legislative leaders from each party.
Brown is widely known and liked at the Capitol, but his selection for the redistricting effort was a mild surprise. Democrats had repeatedly said they wanted a member of their party to serve as the ninth member this year, since a Republican held the post a decade ago.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin Sullivan, D-West Hartford, said Wednesday that concern over partisanship was overstated. He called Brown a good choice and said one reason Brown ended up with the job was because he was willing to take it.
"We approached a few people who everyone thought they could trust...and were left with one," Sullivan said.
He and other leaders were concerned that the job not go to a lobbyist with a widespread practice "for their sake as well as ours," Sullivan said.
"While (the ninth member) may end up pleasing eight people, somewhere along the line he will irritate a bunch of people," whose districts are aligned in a way they don't like, Sullivan said.
Brown, who is semi-retired, said he did not want the job, but knows it is important. If the nine-member commission cannot agree by Nov. 30, the plan goes to the state Supreme Court.
Redistricting "is so difficult," Brown told the New Haven Register. "But I do think, because the court is the next step, that we might be able to knock some heads together and come up with a solution."
Despite that comment, Brown is likely to serve more as a mediator than a final arbiter in a partisan dispute, said House Minority Leader Robert Ward, R-North Branford.
"All of the leaders were interested in somebody having more of a role of a mediator than somebody who would pick one side over the other," Ward said. "Nelly is somebody that both sides trust and think will be fair and balanced."
While Brown is a Republican, he is not active in party politics and has not raised money for Rowland or other GOP candidates, Ward said.
"He's someone who has senior status in the party," Ward said.
Redistricting Panel Looks to Nov. 30 Deadline
September 12, 2001
A panel charged with redrawing the
state's congressional and legislative districts made it official
Wednesday: it will not meet a Saturday deadline to submit a plan to the
Panel fails to reach agreement on districts
September 5, 2001
A panel charged with redrawing the state's congressional and legislative districts has failed to reach agreement and will almost certainly miss a Sept. 15 deadline, legislative leaders said Wednesday.
As a result, the Legislature will not be called into session this month to approve a redistricting plan as expected.
A ninth member of the committee will instead be named and a deadline of Nov. 30 will be set. If the panel, renamed a commission, fails to agree, the plan will be sent to the state Supreme Court.
A completed redistricting plan for Congress, state Senate and state House must be in place to call the Legislature into session, said House Speaker Moira Lyons, D-Stamford.
"I think at this point it would be impossible to do that," she said.
Lyons, co-chairwoman of the Reapportionment Committee, said no final decisions have been reached on any of the three areas targeted by the panel. More progress has been made on legislative districts than on the state's Congressional map, she said.
The state is losing one of its six seats in Congress because Connecticut's population did not grow as fast as in other states.
Despite intense speculation about the new districts in the news media and Capitol hallways, Lyons said legislative leaders have only just begun to discuss the shape of the new Congressional districts.
The state's three Democratic U.S. House members met Wednesday at Democratic headquarters in Hartford to plead their individual cases to party leaders.
"We've had some preliminary discussions and talking staff to staff, but there really hasn't been what I think appropriately needs to be a full focus on the Congressional districts," Lyons said.
Senate Minority Leader Louis DeLuca, R-Woodbury, blamed the slow progress in part on the Democratic-controlled Legislature's monthlong delay in adopting a two-year state budget. The final budget plan was not approved until June 30, 24 days after the scheduled end of the legislative session.
"That slowed us up quite a bit," DeLuca said.
DeLuca, co-chairman of the redistricting panel, said he expected the Congressional mapping to be difficult because two incumbents will inevitably end up in the same district.
But drawing new maps for the 151 state House and 36 Senate seats also been slow going, he said. DeLuca criticized Senate Democrats for a plan that would split voting districts within towns and said the Legislature should try as much as possible to keep cities and towns intact.
Still, DeLuca and other leaders said they were optimistic that the panel would reach agreement before Nov. 30.
Prominent Democrats whose names have been mentioned to fill the ninth slot include former House speakers Richard Balducci and Thomas Ritter and Timothy Moynihan, a former state representative and ex-president of the Greater Hartford Chamber of Commerce.
The men would be acceptable to DeLuca. He said it is only fair for a Democrat to serve on the panel this year.
In 1991, the redistricting panel appointed former Republican House Speaker Nelson Brown to serve as the ninth member. Democrats now say a member of their party should be chosen this time around.
The Hartford Courant
Redistricting: A Gordian Knot
By Lisa Chedekel
August 21, 2001
Nelson Brown cringes at the thought that his phone might ring again with the offer he had accepted a decade ago: Would he help break a deadlock on the state panel charged with redrawing district lines for state House, Senate and congressional seats?
"I wouldn't seek it, I can tell you that," said Brown, 79, a part-time lobbyist and former Republican speaker of the state House of Representatives. "It's an almost impossible job. It's loaded with politics. ... The only thing working in your favor is [the threat] that if you don't get the job done, the court will do it for you."
Brown's phone hasn't rung yet - but it could. Even with a consensus starting to emerge about how the state's six congressional districts might be consolidated into five, members of the redistricting panel - four Democratic and four Republican legislators - concede that it's unlikely they will meet a Sept. 15 deadline to get their recommendations approved by the General Assembly. That means they will need to name a ninth member - someone who commands the respect of both parties, as Brown did.
"I'm not optimistic at this point" about meeting the deadline, said House Minority Leader Robert M. Ward, R-North Branford, a member of the panel. "I think we have a long way to go toward resolving our differences."
"There's been no significant progress yet," agreed Senate President Pro Tem Kevin B. Sullivan of West Hartford, a Democrat on the panel.
Once the September deadline passes and a ninth member is named, the committee would face a new deadline of Nov. 30. If the group still can't agree, the state Supreme Court could take over the job.
Legislative leaders of both parties say they have no intention of letting the court step in. But they also admit they're starting to think about who might serve as a ninth member, with Democratic leaders saying they'd want someone from their own party this time. The panel not only has the daunting task of reducing congressional seats, but also must redraw the boundaries of 151 House and 36 Senate seats.
"I would guess we'd have the Senate and half of the House done" by Sept. 15, predicted Senate Minority Leader Louis C. DeLuca, R-Woodbury, co-chairman of the panel.
But that could be wishful thinking. So far, even the Senate re-districting is progressing slowly. Committee members say Republican senators want to keep individual voting precincts intact - a goal that Democrats believe is both difficult and unnecessary. Neither side is sure when, or how, that disagreement will be resolved.
Committee members said they haven't begun a serious discussion of congressional redistricting, which is necessitated by population shifts in the 2000 Census. The change means each of the five new districts will gain about 110,000 people.
A few months ago, Democrats appeared to be looking at splintering the 2nd Congressional District, represented by Republican Rob Simmons, while Republicans were looking at dissolving the 5th District, represented by Democrat James H. Maloney. Now, both sides seem to be eyeing a reconfiguration of the 5th and 6th districts, and Republicans also are considering blending the 5th and 4th.
"There's been an overwhelmingly strong response from the 2nd District" against splitting it up, said Sullivan. "I think increasingly, people are looking away from that option ... meaning that the 1st, 2nd and 3rd districts would stay based where they are."
Maloney, however, said Monday that he's confident the panel will take a closer look at population growth in the last 10 years, which has made his district the largest in the state, with 581,903 people - up 6.2 percent.
"My view is that the population numbers should drive the decision," Maloney said. "The reality is, the western part of the state grew significantly more than the eastern part of the state. ... In fundamental fairness, there should be three districts in the west and two in the east.
"The most logical step is to split the 2nd," he said, by combining the northern half with the 1st District and the southern half with the 3rd.
Maloney said he expected the committee would need October and November to finish its work, and that proposals would come and go.
"This is like sailing on a lake," he said. "The winds blow one way one week and another the next."
Even if lawmakers on the panel agree to focus on the 5th and 6th districts, it could take months to resolve exactly how that turf would be carved up. If New Britain remains part of that newly configured district, the remapping could have Maloney running against Republican Rep. Nancy L. Johnson in 2002. Republicans will want to help Johnson by keeping GOP-leaning suburbs in the new district and spinning off Democratic communities such as Bristol and Plainville to the 1st District. Democrats will want to help out Maloney by cobbling together Democratic towns and spinning off Republican towns in Fairfield County into the 4th District.
Part of the focus on the butterfly-shaped 5th District is a matter of geography: It's the only district that touches all five of the other districts.
DeLuca noted that the panel got a late start - in July - because the legislative session ran three weeks late. During the last redistricting 10 years ago, the state-appointed panel finished its work just one day before the Nov. 30 deadline.
Maloney said he favors naming a Democrat as the ninth member of the panel.
"I think on that point, it's the Democrats' turn this time ... to find someone who is as fair-minded and respected" as Brown was, he said.
Minority Groups Offer Redistricting Plan
August 1, 2001
A group representing blacks and Hispanics presented a redistricting plan for the state Legislature Wednesday that members said would make it easier for minorities to win election.
The Connecticut chapter of the NAACP and the Connecticut Latino Voting Rights Committee submitted a plan for House districts in eight cities: Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, Waterbury, New Britain, Meriden, Norwalk and Stamford.
The designated districts reflect the increased minority population in each city and "enhance the opportunity for people of color to elect representatives of their choice," the group said.
"In order for our government to truly reflect the growing diversity in our state..more minorities need to be elected to office," said Lisa Scails, president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
While Connecticut's total population has only grown by 3.6 percent since 1990, the black population has grown by 13% and the Latino population by 50 percent, the group said.
Group members said they would work with the Legislature's eight-member
Reapportionment Committee to make sure that their plan is given serious consideration.
The Legislature hopes to approve a redistricting plan by Sept. 15.
No matter how the state's Reapportionment Committee shoehorns six House members into five districts, one-third of Connecticut's congressional delegation is going to be mighty upset on Sept. 15 when the redistricting plan is revealed.
Forget all the balderdash about community of interest, natural geographic boundaries, minority enfranchisement and centuries-old tradition. The redrawing of congressional districts is going to come down to hard-boiled politics.
With Connecticut's population growth slowed to a crawl, as affirmed by the 2000 census, one of the state's congressional districts is relocating out west, where the burbs are booming.
Simple math dictates that Connecticut can't downsize from six incumbents to five without two being plunked in the same district. Whoever the Chosen Ones turn out to be, they won't be heartened at the prospect of having to go toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball with someone who is equally powerful, entrenched and well-financed.
After all, it's foreign to anything they've encountered before. With a re-election rate of about 98 percent (give or take a few percentage points), House members are accustomed to amassing huge war chests and pulverizing their opponents. Let's be honest. Ownership of congressional seats has become an entitlement. But 2002 will be different.
For weeks now, the eight state legislators on the redistricting panel - four Democrats and four Republicans - have been deluged with testimony and plaints from local officials, business people, regional planners and the like, who want the integrity of their districts preserved.
A state lawmaker from the 5th District says it would be disastrous to break up its "Holy Trinity" of Danbury, Waterbury and Meriden, though on the surface it's hard to see what affluent, white-collar Danbury has in common with bankrupt, working-class Waterbury.
The answer: "Twenty-five miles of pavement and 37 years of history connect Danbury to Waterbury," according to Chris Setaro, a former president of the Danbury city council, alluding to the distance between the two cities on I-84 and the length of time they've shared the same congressional district.
Two hundred residents of eastern Connecticut pack a Norwich hearing to discuss the "common character" of the 2nd District. The 54 towns apparently share concerns over defense industry jobs, the environment, gaming and Indian annexation. Bisecting the district would be "drastic and wrong," says a Deep River official. Are there defense industry jobs in Deep River? Casinos in Stafford?
A 4th District resident says moving Danbury into that district would be unfair to the state's minority population because it would result in four of the state's seven largest cities - Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk and Danbury - being lumped together. The courts have looked unfavorably on such consolidations of minority voters.
On it goes. Everyone wants the other guy's district to change. But that can't be. Under the new redistricting plan, each of the five districts must have approximately 681,000 residents. Greater Hartford's 1st District will have to grow the most - by roughly 129,000 people. The 5th District will have to grow the least - by roughly 99,000 people. Something's got to give.
Until now, the conventional wisdom has been that the 5th and the 6th, the two western Connecticut districts, would be merged, making combatants of Democrat James H. Maloney and Republican Nancy L. Johnson, respectively.
A second scenario has it that the sprawling 2nd District would be halved, with the upper section joining the 1st and the shoreline section joining the New Haven-area 3rd. That would put Republican freshman Rob Simmons in with Democrat Rosa DeLauro, jeopardizing Simmons' tenuous hold on the 2nd.
A third variation, and one gaining momentum, has New Britain's 71,000 residents moving to the 1st, an ominous shift for Johnson, who lives in New Britain. That would force her to lock horns with Democrat John B. Larson in a district that's solidly Democratic. The 1st could easily absorb New Britain, whose population is similar to Hartford's and which is only 10 miles away.
Regardless of what happens, "the only constancy," said one speaker at the Hartford reapportionment hearing, "will be change."
So get used to it. Breaking up is hard to do. But not breaking up simply isn't an option.
Public Hearings On Redistricting Wrap-Up
July 17, 2001
Members of the Legislature's Reapportionment Committee wrapped up public hearings on redistricting Tuesday, listening as speaker after speaker urged them to make changes in someone else's congressional district.
The Committee, comprised of four Republican and four Democratic lawmakers, will spend the next several weeks deciding how to eliminate one of the state's six U.S. House districts. The state is losing a seat in Congress and must redraw district lines because its population did not grow as fast as other states.
The Legislature must approve a new district plan for Congress and the state House and Senate by Sept. 15. If lawmakers cannot agree, a ninth person would be added to the reapportionment committee, with a new deadline of Nov. 30. If a plan is not approved by then, the state Supreme Court would step in.
Speaking at Tuesday afternoon's hearing, Jeff Nicholas, the First Selectman in Bethlehem, recommended the committee keep the 5th and 6th districts intact. He said the political clout of Democratic U.S Reps. Jim Maloney in the 5th District and Nancy Johnson in the 6th District was too important for the state to lose.
"Seniority has its strengths," said Nicholas, who wants to split freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons' 2nd District.
Residents of the 2nd District balked at that idea Tuesday, saying eastern Connecticut's communities of rural towns are too unique and intertwined to merge with another district.
Committee co-chairman Louis DeLuca, R-Woodbury, said the committee had not begun forming a redistricting plan. But he said he was impressed by last week's hearing in Norwich, which was attended by more than 200 people who opposed splitting the 2nd District.
DeLuca, the state Senate's minority leader, said the committee will try to keep politics from becoming a major factor in the redistricting process.
"We're in a political business, therefore politics is going to enter into it, but it shouldn't be the first item on our plate," the Senate minority leader said. "The first thing should be to make sure people are properly represented, but politics is going to enter it somewhere along the line."
The hearings did not focus exclusively on the state's congressional districts. Minority groups spoke out against breaking up legislative districts in their communities, and criticized the Legislature for not including any minorities on having any ethnic minority members.
"We start off with exclusion, not inclusion in terms of people of color," said former Hartford Mayor Thurman Milnor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
He offered to the NAACP's assistance in redrawing district maps and committee members said they would consider it.