Vermont's Redistricting News
The Rutland Herald: "Redistricting overhaul
urged." February 18, 2003
MONTPELIER ó Last yearís bitter battle over redrawing the legislative districts has some lawmakers pushing to change the way the Legislature divides the state every 10 years.
A proposal that has garnered significant support in the House would overhaul the stateís reapportionment procedure in a way supporters say will take the partisanship out of the process.
Rep. Steven Hingtgen, P-Burlington, is expected to introduce a bill this week that is modeled after the procedure employed in Iowa, where Legislative Council staff attorneys draw the maps rather than the lawmakers. In drawing the maps, the staff is guided by a set of standards and other criteria approved by the Legislature.
While most of the reapportionment bills introduced so far have divided lawmakers along party lines and received a cool reception from the Democratic Senate, Hingtgenís bill is the only one that appears to have enough support to possibly make it through the General Assembly.
The difference, lawmakers say, is that it looks at the process of redistricting rather than specific changes to the reapportionment map that was passed last year after a protracted and contentious fight.
ìI think we have to have a discussion and I think we have to have it now,î said House Majority Whip Richard Hube, R-Londonderry, who was one of more than 60 lawmakers to sign on to Hingtgenís bill.
Hube was the primary drafter of the House Republicansí plans last year. He also sits on the House Government Operations Committee, the legislative panel that has jurisdiction over the redistricting process.
Even in the Senate, where leaders have been candid about their refusal to reopen the redistricting map approved last year, Hingtgenís proposal has garnered interest.
ìIt makes sense to look at the process,î said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Welch, D-Windsor. ìNow is the time to consider whether there is a better process. Now is not the time to reopen what we did last year.î
Welch has said he would not be willing to open up the redistricting discussion from last year, as proposed in other bills. Traditionally, the Legislature redraws the districts every decade in conjunction with the updated U.S. Census figures, but there is no rule preventing lawmakers from doing it on a more frequent basis.
Rep. Sylvia Kennedy, R-Chelsea, has introduced a bill to put the town of Orange back in the Orange County senatorial district. The town was moved into the Caledonia County district last year.
Also, Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, has proposed a measure that would break up the six-seat Chittenden County senatorial district into smaller districts. Wright argued the district should be divided into smaller two-member or three-member districts.
ìThatís our worst nightmare. Redistricting is a long, torturous process; the only good part of it is it happens once every 10 years,î Welch said. ìMaking changes to it midstream is not a good idea.î
Still, those measures to revisit last yearís discussion could get a hearing in the House.
Rep. Cola Hudson, R-Lyndonville, chairman of the Government Operations Committee, has taken testimony on the pair of bills that would change the current map. He said he was interested in the discussion of changing current districts, and would let the committee decide whether to take up the bills for consideration.
ìWeíll see where we go from here,î he said. ìI find it interesting to think about it.î
On Tuesday, Kennedy told the committee residents of Orange are outraged and confused with the decision to put them in another senatorial district.
ìI promised them Iíd bring the matter back to the Legislature to correct this,î she said.
She also noted that returning Orange to Orange County would do little to change the population deviation of that district, which is a criterion the Legislature must consider in building districts.
Hingtgen has said his bill would remove the partisanship from the debate by allowing staff to draw the maps and creating an objective set of standards that must be met, including creating districts that are contiguous, compact and do not exceed a certain population deviation.
Other criteria that could be used in divvying up the political districts also are offered as guides in the bill. Ranked in order of importance, they include trying to keep together towns, cities, counties and school districts, among other things.
The way lawmakers would vote on a proposed map also changes under the measure. The Legislature would vote on the proposal in a pass or fail vote. It would be banned from proposing amendments until it takes two votes on two different plans. After that, lawmakers would be able to make amendments on the floor.
The proposal has even piqued the interest of Gov. James Douglas.
ìHeís intrigued by that idea. He wants to know more about it,î said Jason Gibbs, Douglasí press secretary.
Contact Tracy Schmaler at [email protected]
The towns of Woodbury and Worcester have appealed the final legislative redistricting plan, asking the Vermont Supreme Court to declare the plan unconstitutional.
Residents of both towns have largely supported efforts to appeal the new districts, despite the legal fees involved. Town officials have said there probably was little hope their district would change and that the purpose of the appeal is largely to make a statement.
ìWe want to get the word out to the state and the Legislature that we think weíve been placed in a terrible district,î said Paul Hanlon, a Worcester Board of Civil Authority member.
In a document filed by Worcester Town Attorney Robert Fairbanks this week, the towns outlined a brief history of the Legislatureís process redrawing the stateís voting districts to better reflect the most recent U.S. Census data. This process occurs every 10 years.
According to the filing, Worcester residents were satisfied by a plan produced nearly a year ago by a bipartisan committee, which placed both towns in a two-member district with other Washington County towns. This proposal was changed by the Legislature, however, and the resulting plan placed Woodbury and Worcester in a single-member district with the Lamoille County towns of Morristown and Elmore.
ìÖ the district allows Morristown, with a population of 5,139, to dominate the other district towns (Elmore, with a population of 849, Woodbury, with a population of 809, and Worcester, with a population of 902). The disparity in population, and the fact that Morristown is in a different county with different geographical orientations, will deny the voters in Woodbury and Worcester the opportunity to influence the election results by securing the attention of the candidates,î the document reads.
Signed by the select boards and boards of civil authority in both towns, the document asks that the Supreme Court direct the Legislature to either place the towns in a district with Washington County towns or divide the two-member district into two single-member districts, where about 1,000 of the Morristown voters would be paired with the other three towns.
Chances of that happening probably are slim, town officials acknowledge.
In 1993, the court refused to hear most of the arguments of six towns, including Berlin, Montgomery and Springfield, which protested the last redistricting plan.
The Supreme Court eventually acknowledged that Montgomery was placed in a poor district, and sent a decision to the Legislature asking that it avoid this type of district in the future. However, there were no specific mandates that any district be changed.
ìObviously, weíd like to avoid that outcome,î said Hanlon. ìI think the court has the authority to order a district.î
Hanlon said the Supreme Court would probably appoint a judge to hear testimony and enter findings of fact. In the meantime, Worcester and Woodbury officials are studying the legislative records to find out exactly why the plan came out the way it did.
ìThere are people who made this happen,î said Hanlon. ìNot some amorphous legislative process.î
Partisan disagreement continued to hold up adjournment of the Legislature Monday, with Senate Republicans blocking a vote on the budget after Senate Democrats refused to compromise on legislative redistricting.
The Republicans refused to go along with a procedural motion to suspend rules so that the Senate could vote on the roughly $3 billion budget and move toward adjournment, which was expected last week.
It was a signal of support for House Republicans, who have rejected efforts by the Senate Democrats to move the town of Orange into a new senatorial district in Caledonia County. House and Senate Republicans have pushed to keep Orange in the Orange County district.
Sen. Robert Ide, R-Caledonia, said he and other Senate Republicans were prepared to vote against the budget if the reapportionment plan was not resolved.
ìIf thatís what they want, then they will pass a very, very partisan budget,î Ide said.
The Orange issue carries high stakes for both parties. It is important for the Democrats as they try to maintain their slim, two-seat majority in the Senate. Meanwhile, the seat is key for Republicans hoping to gain control of the Senate in the November elections.
Currently, Republican Sen. William Corrow represents that district. He edged out former Sen. Mark MacDonald, a Democrat, who lost two years ago because of his support for civil unions.
With the town of Orange out of the Orange County district, the Democratsí shot at regaining control of that district improves greatly. With Orange in the district, Republicans have a better chance of keeping the seat.
The Democrats on Monday disagreed that the conflict was solely about Orange. They pointed to a problem they had with the House map, where the GOP House has drawn internal lines breaking up the 15 representatives in the towns of Burlington, South Burlington and Winooski. They also contend the House reneged on an agreement the two sides had made about each supporting the otherís plans.
ìThis has very little to do with Orange,î said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham.
The dispute has pushed the legislative session further into overtime, potentially embarrassing in an election year.
Some legislative leaders, including Shumlin, have given up on trying to find a compromise.
ìReapportionment is over. Weíre going to court,î he said. ìMy expectation is to shut down the legislative session this week. Itís time to go home.î
Still others, including those senators and House members on the committee that tried to negotiate a plan, say they still have some hope a resolution is possible.
ìNothing in my mind is ever dead until the final gavel falls on the session,î said Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, the chairman of the joint House and Senate committee negotiating reapportionment.
Another potentially contentious issue facing lawmakers is language in the budget bill limiting the Governorís Commission on Women from using state money to fund lobbying efforts.
Several Senate Democrats have staunchly opposed the language, contending it is censorship based on gender.
ìIt is so offensive,î said Sen. Jean Ankeney, D-Chittenden. ìIt sort of reminds me of what the Taliban did.î
The Senate is expected to vote on the budget today. The House is scheduled to return to the State House Friday to act on any remaining bills, including the budget.
While many were reluctant to predict when the Legislature would adjourn, several suggested it would end later this week.
Contact Tracy Schmaler at [email protected]
Elections officials studied the law books and the Constitution on Monday as they tried to figure out how to conduct legislative elections if no redistricting bill is approved.
Negotiators forced another delay in the adjournment of the 2002 Legislature early Sunday when they became deadlocked on how to draw the final lines on House and Senate district maps.
No new negotiations have been scheduled and top legislative leaders say there wonít be a deal. Instead, theyíre planning to rely on the courts to resolve the partisan impasse.
ìItís never been done before,î said Paul Gillies, a former deputy secretary of state and lawyer who advised the nonpartisan Legislative Apportionment Board.
There was pressure to go back to the bargaining table, but some legislative leaders said they werenít willing to delay the session longer to work out a deal.
ìReapportionment is over,î said Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham. ìA lot of bills fail. Thereís a whole stack of good bills in the House that failed. This is just one of them.î
But this one could have broad ramifications for this fallís elections.
Incumbents and challengers have to know what the districts are before they can file for primary and general elections. The primary election filing deadline is July 15.
If the Legislature goes home without enacting a law decreeing new maps, no one can be certain how to determine what the districts are.
The state Constitution requires legislators to draw new district lines every 10 years to reflect shifts in the population. The goal is to ensure that each voter has a roughly equal say in the Legislature.
This is the first time since 1965, when the current system of dividing up the Legislature was adopted, that the Republicans controlled one chamber and Democrats the other.
Still, negotiators werenít close to settling on the maps until late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Thatís when they became stuck.
Their solution was to call it quits and let the courts settle the issue, which is not sitting well with some members of the Legislature.
ìAs one who actually wrote the 1970, ë80 and ë90 reapportionment bill, I think itís a total abdication of responsibility to go home without an apportionment bill and put it in the hands of the courts,î said Sen. William Doyle, R-Washington. ìWhat we should do is pass a bill and if someone disagrees, go to court.î
Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz, who is responsible for overseeing elections, said state law and the Constitution donít make clear what the options were. Her office is assuming that candidates would run in the districts that have existed for the past 10 years.
ìThe districts are the districts until they are changed,î she said. ìThat means if on July 15 thereís no new district, then candidates who file using the old district lines.î
There is a provision in Section 73 of the state Constitution, however, that says: ìIf the General Assembly fails to revise the legislative districts as required in this section, the Supreme Court in appropriate legal proceedings brought for the purpose may order reapportionment of the districts.î
Thatís not much guidance and lawyers said they werenít certain whether a lawsuit would have to be filed for the court to act or whether the court could take it up on its own. Chief Justice Jeffrey Amestoy declined to comment on the issue Monday.
There also is a possibility that a lawsuit could be filed in federal court.
Someone could argue that the decade-old districts are unconstitutional because of population shifts. Court precedents permit deviations of around 8 percent fewer or 8 percent more people in each district than the ideal of 4,059 in the House and 20,294 in the Senate.
With no new plan to go on, few people are willing to predict how a court would react.
ìMy understanding is that traditionally the Supreme Court has viewed this as a political process that ultimately needed to be resolved by the General Assembly and that they would be looking only to ensure that the constitutional requirement for one person, one vote was met,î said Deputy Secretary of State William Dalton.
House members tackled the thorny issue of redistricting again Thursday evening, giving preliminary approval to both a House and Senate plan that will almost certainly be disputed by the Senate.
On a 98-29 vote, the House laid the groundwork for a final debate and vote on the bill today. But with the changes ó especially to districts in heavily Democratic Burlington ó likely to rile majority Democrats in the Senate, the final battle will likely be fought in a joint House-Senate conference committee.
And that fight could be one that keeps lawmakers from going home this weekend.
ìIíd like to think that the Senate would (agree to the changes),î said Rep. Richard Hube Jr., R-Londonderry, a key player in the redistricting negotiations. ìBut I know thatís remote.î
The Legislature must draw new districts every 10 years in conjunction with the U.S. Census so that each of the 150 members of the Vermont House and 30 senators represents roughly the same number of people, about 4,059 this year for the House and 20,295 for the Senate.
Traditionally the two chambers each do their own plan and rubberstamp the otherís, but for the first time reapportionment is occurring with a divided Legislature, with Democrats in control of the Senate and Republicans in charge of the House.
And because the governorís and lieutenant governorís races may be decided by a secret ballot vote of all legislators if no candidate gets more than 50 percent, each seat becomes crucial as the two major parties and the Progressives try to use their clout to draw districts favoring their candidates.
One key part of the latest plan is drawing internal lines in large districts like Burlington, South Burlington, and Winooski. Local boards of civil authority in each town decide how to divide districts with more than two members, but if they canít agree that duty falls to lawmakers.
Currently, Burlington has 10 seats and shares a district with South Burlington, which also has three seats of its own. Winooski has two seats now, but its population has fallen to where it canít support them.
The House plan gives South Burlington four seats, Burlington nine, Winooski one, and has the latter two cities sharing a district.
ìOur thinking was driven by fairness,î Hube said. ì... Burlington has nine seats with a 50-50 chance of getting a 10th seat. Winooski has one seat with a 50-50 chance of getting a second seat.î
The House plan also draws internal lines for a three-member district in southern Vermont. Under the plan, Poultney and about 100 residents of Ira form a single-member district, while Proctor, West Rutland, Clarendon and the rest of Ira make up a two-member district.
Democrats were less than happy with the Burlington districts, which they see as favoring Republicans and Progressives. Rep. John Tracy, D-Burlington, the minority leader, said he had not yet decided whether there would be attempts to change the plan on the floor today pending discussions with Senate Democrats and others.
He said the plan led to South Burlington and the Republican New North End in Burlington having too much representation at the expense of the rest of Burlington.
ìThis whole exercise is about one person having one vote, and our goal should be to keep to that as much as we can,î Tracy said.
Contact David Mace at [email protected]
Adjournment of the 2002 Legislature by this weekend was abandoned Thursday amid progress on important issues such as the budget but new problems on others, including legislative redistricting.
Budget talks moved forward, but much more slowly than leaders had hoped, and House Speaker Walter Freed abandoned hope of getting the job done today.
So he sent the full House home until next week, promising he would recall them to Montpelier earlier if progress warranted it.
ìI canít keep 150 members here, paying them expenses and (salary),î Freed said late in the day. ìYou canít even get conference committees to meet.î
Legislative leaders were intent on wrapping up their chores this weekend so they could return home to get down to other business.
But there was never much prospect of that happening, and when the leadership took stock of what remained to be done they realized they needed more time.
The latest timetable calls for adjournment a week from Friday, perhaps just minutes before the calendar turns to June. That, too, could prove to be an insurmountable task because some politically difficult issues still havenít been voted.
Redrawing the political map, for example, still isnít done. Every 10 years, legislative districts are redrawn to reflect shifts in population. That jobís about half done. But the House still hasnít voted on a Senate map, and it still has to endorse district lines drawn by towns in districts that have two more representatives.
ìIíve made it clear we wonít sign off on a budget until they pass a reapportionment plan,î said Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham.
That canít happen, though, with the House out of town until May 30.
Nonetheless, negotiations continued on the budget. The biggest obstacle has been spending on Medicaid, the program that provides health insurance coverage to the poor and disabled.
Gov. Howard Dean and Republicans in the House have insisted there need to be benefit cuts, especially on prescription drug assistance, to keep the program afloat in future budget years. Democrats who control the Senate, however, have balked at that idea.
They came up with a plan that would place caps on the number of people who can enroll in two of the prescription programs, which would save money in the 2003 budget and into the future.
Dean said he was encouraged by the movement but was not certain yet whether that was enough. ìThere have to be savings and structural changes in our health care system,î he said.
The governor also encouraged lawmakers to rejuvenate talks on changing the Act 60 education funding law, an effort abandoned a day earlier. ìI would urge the House to go back to the table and continue to work on this bill,î Dean said. ìI think we have an Act 60 reform that so many people have wanted right in our grasp.î There didnít appear to be much sentiment around the State House that Dean would get his wish. House Republican leaders donít like the Senate plan that Dean endorsed at his news conference, and they basically accused the governor of changing his own position on the issue.
ìI spent a year advocating his secret proposal and then backs the other guys,î said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Marron, R-Stowe.
ìIím just disappointed in Governor Dean that he did no lifting on Act 60,î Freed added. ìThe governor has done no work to move any thoughts.î
There does appear to be a deal nearly at hand on forcing the pharmaceutical industry to disclose some of its marketing, known in the business as detailing.
A conference committee continues to negotiate some of the last provisions of that bill, but Dean said he was eager to sign it.
ìGovernment is going to have apply more regulation to these businesses because of their corporate behavior,î Dean said.
With sparse debate, the Senate passed a bill Monday redrawing its legislative districts for the next decade.
The bill passed with bipartisan support, 21-8. It was the result of weeks of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, as well as the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic Senate.
ìItís a very fair plan,î said Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee, which drafted the map. ìOverall, I think the state is served well by this plan.î
The plan, which now moves over to the House for review, made few changes from the current districts, a feature that caused some to question whether the map adequately reflects the population in different regions of the state.
The most controversial changes include moving the Franklin County town of Montgomery into an Essex-Orleans district, moving the Windham County town of Londonderry into the Bennington district, and moving the town of Orange out of Orange County and into a Caledonia County district.
The Senate vote comes a week after House and Senate leaders agreed on a reapportionment plan for the House. The two plans have been linked this year like no other time in history. Traditionally, the House leaves the Senate plan alone and the Senate responds accordingly.
But this year redistricting ó done every 10 years to account for shifts in population ó occurred while opposing parties controlled the two chambers.
Sen. Sara Branon Kittell, D-Franklin, attributed some of her failure in getting her county better representation to the political bartering over the two plans. Kittellís county in the northwest part of the state saw a population surge, while the northeast region ó known as the Northeast Kingdom ó grew at a slower rate. Yet the plan keeps two senators in Franklin County and four in the Kingdom counties of Essex, Orleans and Caledonia.
ìMy disappointment is we would have liked to been able to find a compromise that would address the population shift in Franklin County,î she said. She questioned the wisdom of removing one town in her county, then adding a town from another county.
Kittell was upset last week when she learned that her district would not get a third senator and she would not be able to put Montgomery back in the Franklin County district.
She told the Democratic caucus she took it personally that as a member of the Reapportionment Committee she was unable to get anything for her district in either the House or the Senate plan. Kittellís comments sent an angry Sears storming out of the room, and prompted Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, to warn her that she had overstepped the bounds of civility. Shumlin made his remark after Kittell suggested that Shumlin would have difficulty winning votes in Montgomery in his upcoming lieutenant governorís campaign if the town is pushed into an Essex-Orleans district.
Senate Republicans also tried to change the plan but were unsuccessful. Most notably, they made one last attempt Monday to keep Orange in its namesake county by moving the town of Corinth into Caledonia County.
ìOrange is more aligned with Orange County,î said Sen. Robert Ide, R-Caledonia.
This region had both Republican and Democrats drawing lines with an eye toward the next election.
Orange County Sen. William Corrow, a Republican, unseated Mark MacDonald, a Democrat, in the last election. The town of Orange played a pivotal role in getting Corrow elected, and the Republicans wanted to keep it in the county to make it easier to stave off a Democratic challenger in the next election.
In Windham County, the town of Londonderry was moved to the Bennington County district. Sears, who represents Bennington, said he moved the town to accommodate Whitingham residents, who have complained for the last 10 years that their Windham County town shouldnít be in the Bennington County district.
This proposal has some strong opposition, namely from Rep. Richard Hube, R-Londonderry, the chief drafter of the House redistricting proposal.
Hube said he would work to change that part of the Senate when it moves to the House, if the full House decides not to concur with the plan. Hube said he would favor keeping Windham and Bennington counties intact in two separate districts.
Sears said he too would support that alternative, but he questioned whether the population figures would allow for it.
Reapportionment has threatened to extend this legislative session, and so far it has pushed adjournment until the end of May. Unlike the Senate proposal, the House plan must go back to the towns for review in cases where multi-member districts are created. In these districts, the local boards of civil authority can plot the internal boundaries.
Lawmakers set a May 22 deadline when they sent the House plan out to towns last week. The plans must then be approved again by both the House and Senate.
Contact Tracy Schmaler at [email protected].
House Republicans successfully held back Democratic efforts Tuesday to change a map redrawing the stateís legislative districts.
The GOP map was given preliminary approval in an 88-52 vote that capped three hours of debate and several roll call votes in which majority Republicans, a handful of Democrats and a few Progressives banded together.
Republicans called the plan a fair one, with unfortunate situations in some communities where the criteria for districts such as the number of voters, the geography and the social connections conflicted.
ìIím a little tired of hearing the word gerrymandering,î said Majority Leader John LaBarge, R-Grand Isle, a member of the Government Operations Committee that penned the plan, which is drawn every 10 years to account for shifts in population.
LaBarge disputed suggestions from Democrats that Republicans disregarded the process and rammed the plan through the committee because they had the votes and planned to do the same on the floor of the House. He said the public had plenty of opportunity to weigh in throughout the process at a series of hearings around the state.
ìThere will be winners and there will be losers; that is the nature of this beast,î LaBarge said.
Most Democrats countered that it was a partisan plan, drafted by Republicans who played favorites with members of their own party and needlessly knocked incumbent Democrats out of districts.
ìIíd just like to point out that might does not make right,î said Rep. Ann Seibert, D-Norwich. ìI think what weíre experiencing here is an abuse of power and that is very sad.î
Democrats took issue with a few so-called ìhot spotsî in the state, most particularly in Washington County where incumbent Democratic Reps. Kinny Connell of Warren and Michael Fisher of Lincoln would by vying for a single seat in a new district and Reps. Elaine Alfano, D-Calais, and Donny Osman, D-Plainfield, would be competing if both ran again.
The situation was created, in part, as a result of Republicans keeping the same number of representatives in the Northeast Kingdom despite little population growth there compared to other regions of the state.
Connell and Fisher made an attempt to put the Mad River Valley towns of Fayston, Waitsfield and Warren back together in a two-seat district with Moretown, Duxbury and Granville. The proposal also put Lincoln in a two-seat district with the towns of Starksboro, Bristol and Monkton.
ìThe Mad River Valley is a community, a unique valley,î Connell argued, noting that the GOP proposal split Warren away from Waitsfield and Fayston and put it in a district that separates the town with steep mountains.
ì(This plan) has created a district that straddles a 4,000-foot mountain,î Fisher noted.
Their proposal to change the district failed as did others that would have returned Roxbury to a district with Northfield and Moretown, and shuffled Plainfield and Calais around to create new districts.
ìThis is a mountainous state,î said Rep. Richard Hube, R-Londonderry, the vice chairman of the committee and the primary drafter of the plan. ìItís impossible to create 150 House districts ... that donít have a mountain between some.î
Democratic leaders in the House had some difficulty holding their entire caucus together as some members liked their new districts.
ìWe need to look out for other people in the state of Vermont; we need to look out for other towns,î said House Minority Leader John Tracy, D-Burlington. ìThere are other districts being torn apart.î
Rep. Maureen Dakin, D-Colchester, was one of a handful of Democrats who voted in favor of the plan. She urged her leaders not to ask Democrats who like the plan to sacrifice their own districts and possibly risk getting knocked off in the next election for opposing a plan that benefits them.
ìDonít sacrifice some of us for others,î she said. ìDonít pit us against each together ... please donít let the ... map divide us more than it already has.î
Still, other Democrats who had been successful in keeping their districts together voted against the plan.
Rep. Margaret Hummel, D-Underhill, fought and won an early proposal by the committee to separate her town from Jericho. But she still voted against the plan despite rumors that Republicans were going to seek some kind of retribution against those Democrats who got what they wanted and still voted against the plan.
ìItís true,î she said, paraphrasing an old adage, ì we all hang together or we all hang separately.î
Tracy also urged Democrats to stick together to send a message to the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats. If the Senate decides to tinker with the House plan, it could pave the way for a second shot at changes for House Democrats.
Traditionally during the redistricting process the House and Senate have not meddled in the otherís plan, rather rubberstamping the otherís proposals. But this year, the two chambers are controlled by different parties.
Democratic leaders in the Senate have already warned they would not pass a plan they felt was unfair to their counterparts in the House. Gov. Howard Dean, also a Democrat, has echoed the same sentiment.
On Tuesday, Dean called the plan unfair to Democrats because it pit incumbents against each other, but added that he would bide his time.
ìI think itís early for me to get involved at this point,î he said.
The House is expected to take a final vote on the plan this afternoon.
A House committee approved a controversial redistricting plan Tuesday, setting up what is expected to be a partisan debate next week over the GOP proposal to plot new legislative districts.
The House Government Operations Committee voted 8 to 3 to send the map to the full House. The committee split down party lines with seven Republicans and one Progressive voting in favor of the GOP plan while the three Democrats on the committee opposed it.
Democrats criticized the plan and Republicans for being unnecessarily partisan in trying to draw incumbent Democrats out of seats when it could have been avoided.
ìItís a purely political map. Itís was a map done for political purposes,î said Assistant Minority Leader Patricia Doyle, D-Richmond, who sits on the committee. ìIím very disappointed.î
Changes in the Washington County towns of Calais, Marshfield and Plainfield and in the Mad River Valley, as well as new lines in Bennington County, knock three Democrats off at the outset by pitting them against other incumbents in the upcoming election.
Doyle and other Democrats said the GOP plan did little to recognize natural borders such as mountain ranges, ignored cultural connections between towns and disregarded earlier criteria the committee agreed to in trying to keep the population deviation of districts to a low percentage.
Democrats in the House offered
their plan for new legislative districts late Wednesday after Republicans
warned them time was running out for negotiations. Republican House
leaders want the full House to vote on a new plan for legislative
districts next week. Democrats wanted more public hearings and committee
discussion. "We don't have time for that," House Republican Leader John
LaBarge of Grand Isle told Assistant Democratic Leader Patricia Doyle of
Richmond. Lawmaker must redraw the boundaries for legislative districts
every 10 years after they receive the new population figures from the U.S.
Census Bureau. The political parties always look for boundaries that will
be most advantageous for their candidates. Friday, Republicans on the
House Government Operations Committee unveiled a plan that would force six
Democrats out of office. Democrats screamed foul. The two sides met
Wednesday, with Republicans expecting Democrats to make a formal response.
Doyle put them off, saying she first had to understand the rationale for
their proposal. "We put out a plan and we said shoot at it," LaBarge
said. "How are we going to respond when you don't tell us what you don't
like?" Sounding like the old woman in the hamburger advertisement asking
about the beef, Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, repeatedly asked Doyle,
"Where the map?" Doyle kept on with her questions about the Republican
plan. Pointing to a proposed district that would put Lincoln with Warren,
she asked, "Don't you know there is a mountain there?" "I'm not going to
sit here and walk through the entire state," said Rep. Rick Hube,
R-Londonderry. Doyle continued. Republicans protested. Finally she asked,
"Was it just mean-spirited?" "We went with some political advantage,"
LaBarge conceded. "Are you willing to compromise on your map?" Doyle
asked. "I think we are willing," Hube said. "This is a start." With that
assurance, Doyle promised to come back with counter proposals and a map by
late afternoon. The Democratic plan she produced would pit some
incumbents against one another in next fall's election. Doyle called these
fair competitions because they would involve people from both parties.
For example, in a district that would be made up of Lincoln, Bristol, New
Haven and Monkton, two Republicans and one Democrat would face off for two
seats. Doyle said the Democratic plan created districts that were closer
to the ideal size than those in the Republican plan. She also said it
didn't have any mountain problems. Republicans said they would study the
plan and respond today. Neither side expected the tensions to go away.
"It's still contentious," Doyle said. "I don't feel like they have
conceded that much. That doesn't really show goodwill." "We obviously
aren't going to roll over," LaBarge said. Republicans have the votes in
the committee and in the House as a whole to pass any plan they want.
Ultimately, the Democratic Senate and Democratic Gov. Howard Dean would
have to agree to the House plan. "Right now, I'm not even going to worry
about the Senate," LaBarge said. "We have to do what we think is right."
Republican House leaders want the full House to vote on a new plan for legislative districts next week. Democrats wanted more public hearings and committee discussion.
"We don't have time for that," House Republican Leader John LaBarge of Grand Isle told Assistant Democratic Leader Patricia Doyle of Richmond.
Lawmaker must redraw the boundaries for legislative districts every 10 years after they receive the new population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. The political parties always look for boundaries that will be most advantageous for their candidates.
Friday, Republicans on the House Government Operations Committee unveiled a plan that would force six Democrats out of office. Democrats screamed foul.
The two sides met Wednesday, with Republicans expecting Democrats to make a formal response. Doyle put them off, saying she first had to understand the rationale for their proposal.
"We put out a plan and we said shoot at it," LaBarge said. "How are we going to respond when you don't tell us what you don't like?"
Sounding like the old woman in the hamburger advertisement asking about the beef, Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, repeatedly asked Doyle, "Where the map?"
Doyle kept on with her questions about the Republican plan. Pointing to a proposed district that would put Lincoln with Warren, she asked, "Don't you know there is a mountain there?"
"I'm not going to sit here and walk through the entire state," said Rep. Rick Hube, R-Londonderry.
Doyle continued. Republicans protested. Finally she asked, "Was it just mean-spirited?"
"We went with some political advantage," LaBarge conceded.
"Are you willing to compromise on your map?" Doyle asked.
"I think we are willing," Hube said. "This is a start."
With that assurance, Doyle promised to come back with counter proposals and a map by late afternoon.
The Democratic plan she produced would pit some incumbents against one another in next fall's election. Doyle called these fair competitions because they would involve people from both parties.
For example, in a district that would be made up of Lincoln, Bristol, New Haven and Monkton, two Republicans and one Democrat would face off for two seats.
Doyle said the Democratic plan created districts that were closer to the ideal size than those in the Republican plan. She also said it didn't have any mountain problems.
Republicans said they would study the plan and respond today.
Neither side expected the tensions to go away.
"It's still contentious," Doyle said. "I don't feel like they have conceded that much. That doesn't really show goodwill."
"We obviously aren't going to roll over," LaBarge said. Republicans have the votes in the committee and in the House as a whole to pass any plan they want.
Ultimately, the Democratic Senate and Democratic Gov. Howard Dean would have to agree to the House plan.
"Right now, I'm not even going to worry about the Senate," LaBarge said. "We have to do what we think is right."
Burlington Free Press
That's apparent at every hearing the House Government Operations Committee holds to gather comments about where to draw the new boundaries for House districts. The new population figures from the U.S. Census force reconsideration of boundaries to ensure that Vermonters have equal representation in the Legislature.
A special legislative advisory panel developed one plan, which has been sent to every Vermont town. This winter the Legislature will set the boundaries, which stand for 10 years.
At the committee's hearings, residents have chafed at suggestions that would divide their towns or put them with communities that share little commerce or culture.
"They come in and speak from the heart," said Rep. David Bolduc, R-Orleans, a member of the House Government Operations Committee charged with drawing up a final House plan. "Rarely do they understand the number issue."
This week, residents of Grand Isle County pleaded for a district that would include all five island towns. For 20 years, Alburg, at the north end of the county, has been paired with Swanton.
"I get a knot in my stomach to think that Alburg might be represented by Swanton for another 10 years," said Christine Tepper of Alburg. "We really don't feel we have connections with Swanton."
The five island towns are home to too many people to be represented by one lawmaker and too few to be represented by two. Residents suggested that a section of Swanton called Hog Island could be tacked on to their proposed district to reach the population count for a two-member district.
"We are a unique, separate area," said Dick Trudell of Grand Isle. "We really want to be represented by ourselves. We're islanders."
Swanton residents at the hearing objected to the Grand Isle proposal. Any plan to cut up Swanton "is completely unacceptable," said Rep. John Winters, R-Swanton. He is a member of the town's board of civil authority, which reviewed the suggestions of the Legislative Apportionment Board.
Winters handed lawmakers another proposal that adjusted districts throughout Franklin County in order to keep Swanton whole. The plan wouldn't solve the islands' problem of not having enough people for a two-member district.
Trudell suggested time would take care of the islands' population shortfall. "We're the fastest-growing county," he told lawmakers. "If you hold your breath, we just might make it by the time you decide this."
The Swanton proposal would have a ripple effect that didn't excite folks from Fletcher. It would put their town with Fairfield and Bakersfield. David Clark of the Fletcher board of civil authority said the connection among those communities was weak.
Fletcher would prefer to remain in a district with Fairfax, Clark said, because the two towns share a high school. He admitted the numbers didn't work. The combined population of the two towns -- 4,944 -- exceeds the upper limit of 4,365 allowed for a single-member House district. The apportionment panel suggested pairing Fletcher with Cambridge, its neighbor in Lamoille County.
"I guess we are the orphan town in Franklin County this year," Clark said. Fletcher might replace Montgomery as the only Franklin County town in a district outside the county. The apportionment board proposed that Montgomery form a district with Richford, Enosburg, Berkshire and Bakersfield.
Barry Kade of Montgomery urged lawmakers to return Montgomery to a Franklin County district.
"We were sent over the mountain to Orleans County where practically nobody knows anybody," Kade said. "We felt disenfranchised."
Kade added, "I think it is really important that the sense of community be the overriding guideline."
Committee Chairman Cola Hudson, R-Lyndonville, wasn't surprised by the many conflicting requests at Wednesday's hearing. He's taken part in redrawing House districts three other times.
"The issues, I think, are a little more pronounced where there has been a lot of growth," he said. The population of northwestern Vermont -- Franklin, Grand Isle, Chittenden, and Lamoille counties -- grew faster than most other areas of the state.
"Where there is growth, that means there has got to be change," Hudson said. "Change is unsettling."
Contact Nancy Remsen at 229-9141 or [email protected]
Key members of the state House of Representatives said Wednesday they would consider drawing boundaries for new state Senate districts, an unorthodox move that Democrats say targets their power base in Chittenden County.
Candidates and voters have grumbled for years about the unwieldy nature of the six-seat Chittenden district. Many want it broken into several smaller districts.
Wednesday, as the House Government Operations Committee sat down to begin mapping new House districts, some members worried their counterparts in the Senate would ignore the sentiment favoring the breakup of Chittenden County.
"We need to take a hard look at that," said Rep. Steve Hingtgen, a committee member and Progressive from Burlington. "The influence of money in a large race like that is too strong."
Republican House Speaker Walter Freed of Dorset said he liked the idea of single-member Senate districts where the lawmaker answers to a smaller number of voters.
"I do feel that Senate districts such as Chittenden, that has 125,000 residents in it, doesn't reflect the intent of the Constitution," he said.
A special board charged with advising lawmakers on how to redraw political boundaries has recommended no change in the giant Chittenden district or the three-seat districts in Washington, Windsor and Rutland counties.
Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, agrees with the recommendation to stick with the county scheme.
"Senate representation is designed to take in the view of a broad cross section," Shumlin said. "It would be detrimental to break up Chittenden County," he added. "You would end up with city senators and suburban senators."
Once a decade, the Legislature takes the new population figures supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau and adjusts boundaries for all 150 House districts and 30 Senate districts. The goal is to ensure that Vermonters receive as close to equal representation as possible.
Traditionally, the House drew the maps only for the districts of its members and so did the Senate. The arrangement worked when a single party controlled both chambers. This time around, the House is controlled by Republicans and the Senate by Democrats.
Shumlin said he would go along with tradition as long as the House plan was fair. "If there is a lot of gerrymandering and gamesmanship," he said, "we'll have a lot to say."
Politics underlies some Republican lawmakers' interest in splitting up Chittenden County, said Mark Michaud, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party. He sat in as the House Government Operations Committee discussed redistricting on Wednesday.
"They believe they will have a better chance, if it is subdivided, to capture seats," Michaud said.
The House faces plenty of controversy just drawing the lines for its districts. Government Operations Chairman Cola Hudson, R-Lyndonville, veteran of three redistricting efforts, urged his committee to stick with tradition.
"I think Cola is probably right," said Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington. He spoke out about the problems with the Chittenden Senate district on Wednesday.
"I have concerns about it," he said later, "but do I think we should get involved? No. I think it would be a bloody mess."
Contact Nancy Remsen at 229-9141 or [email protected]