Legislators still grappling with redistricting

Six members of Congress will not fit in five districts.

It’s a simple mathematical fact, but it is one that a group of state senators and representatives will have to grapple with as they redraw Connecticut’s districts.

Last year’s census figures showed the state’s population had risen too slowly to maintain its six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. A committee appointed by legislative leaders now must turn six districts into five, meaning two incumbents will probably be pitted against each other in the 2002 election.

The state constitution also requires Connecticut’s 151 state house districts and 36 state senate districts to be redrawn, according to information provided by the office of Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz.

An eight-person Reapportionment Committee, comprising four Democrats and four Republicans, was assigned both tasks, but failed to reach agreement before a Sept. 15 deadline.

Gov. John Rowland will likely now appoint the same eight legislators to a Reapportionment Commission. The eight will pick then pick a ninth member. If the commission fails to act by Nov. 30, the process will fall to the state Supreme Court.

With Washington so closely divided, national party leaders are watching every state’s redistricting process very carefully. Connecticut’s bipartisan procedure has allowed it to avoid some of the bitter partisanship seen in other states, but legislators are far from deciding which of Connecticut’s three Democratic and three Republican representatives will have their districts broken apart.

Republican state Sen. David Cappiello, a member of the committee, said discussions had only been preliminary. He added that he and his colleagues will likely focus first on the easier process of redrawing legislative districts.

But that job is not without its disagreements either.

Deputy Speaker of the House Melody Currey, a Democrat, said Democrats hope Connecticut’s largest cities can keep their allotment of House seats despite decreases in population. She suggested urban districts be expanded into adjacent suburban areas to make up the difference.

“I think we’re all well aware of the decline in population,” Currey said. “I’m optimistic that we will be able to maintain as many as possible.”

New Haven’s population dropped by 7,000 since 1990, according to census figures, while Hartford lost 17,000. Bridgeport, the state’s largest city, lost only 2,000.

While emphasizing that he is mainly concerned with state senate districts, Cappiello disagreed with Currey’s solution to the population drop in largely Democratic urban areas.

“I don’t understand why they would want to cross town boundaries when it might be unnecessary,” Cappiello said. “Only one, if any, House seat in each of the major cities should ever cross over town lines.”

He added that keeping districts within single towns has always been a major objective of the reapportionment process.

Had the committee formulated a plan before the Sept. 15 deadline, it would have required approval by two-thirds of state legislators. The commission’s decision would not need legislative approval, but it could be subject to a court challenge.

Comments