Legislators set to dive into redistricting proposals

With a Sept. 27 deadline pressing down on them, members of Maine’s Apportionment Commission agreed on proposals for redrawing district lines for Maine’s counties, its two congressional districts and Maine House districts.

The exercise, undertaken once in a decade, is meant to restore population balance to voting districts after tallying births, deaths, in-and out-migration and Mainers moving around within the state.

The Bangor Daily News reports the state population overall has grown by about 34,000 people since the last census, a growth rate of just 2.6 percent. We are showing a predilection for living in the southern part of the state, with people from all the rural counties drizzling, like sand through an hourglass, toward Portland and surrounding communities. There is no accounting for some people’s taste.

A glance at state redistricting maps shows the vast population disparity between the 1st and 2nd congressional districts. Dividing our population in half, 50 percent are squinched into a teensy southern bit while the other 50 percent are distributed over the vast territory that is the 2nd CD. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree can call out to most of her constituents through an open window. Congressman Jared Golden has to saddle up and hit the road — 355.9 miles of road — from Brownfield to Madawaska.

This southward migration means some lucky community is going to have to pack up its citizens and move north, politically speaking. The battle was over just how many Democrats would end up in the more conservative 2nd Congressional District, diluting Republican firepower there. The problem for Republicans was that the farther south you go, the more Dems you get.

Republicans managed a small victory as Augusta, rather than Waterville, was the lucky winner. Waterville has Democrats a-plenty (45 percent of all registered voters) while Augusta has fewer (36 percent), and over 1,700 more Republicans. So, Augustans will be voting with us here in the 2nd CD and a clutch of smaller communities in Kennebec County will get shuffled back and forth.

At some point in the deliberations, it appeared that redistricting might move Bruce Poliquin of Oakland, Republican candidate for the 2nd CD, out of that district. That is not technically a problem, as a congressional candidate must live in the state but not necessarily in the specific district for which he or she is running, but for Poliquin it was déjà vu all over again.

Prior Poliquin campaigns have been plagued with residency issues, and though it may be legal to live outside the district one serves, it is not a political plus. Poliquin is going to settle this once and for all, for now, and move to Bangor, putting himself squarely in the 2nd CD.

Hancock County was one of the tougher nuts for the commission to crack. The results are equivocal. Penobscot has an affinity for Blue Hill, or so say some local residents, and would like to be in the same district. That would mean booting Castine out. As proposed, Bucksport, Orland, Penobscot and Verona Island would be a district.

Gouldsboro, Franklin, Hancock, Sorrento and Winter Harbor would make a district (along with Cherryfield and Steuben) but Mariaville, Osborn, Sullivan, Waltham and Fletchers Landing would be excised, ending up in a district of small, western Hancock County towns. Ellsworth would link up with Waltham and central Hancock.

MDI would be split in half, Bar Harbor and Mount Desert pairing up with Lamoine and the Cranberry Isles, while Southwest Harbor and Tremont would be in with Deer Isle, Stonington, Brooklin, Swan’s Island and Frenchboro.

It is only the Maine Senate on which the commission could not agree before this past Monday’s final meeting. Affectionately (well, gleefully) known as the Muffin Club by members of the House, the commission has not been able to agree on a plan for the “upper body,” where the politics are more overt.

The redistricting plan can be accepted in pieces, with districts where the commission agreed being accepted and the recalcitrant Senate either passed by some alchemy within the Legislature or more likely being sent on to the Superior Court, which would have 35 days to find a solution.

The numbering of legislative districts alternates in redistricting years, giving the crown of Maine the privilege of being House District 1 for 10 years, then passing the foam finger of greatness to Kittery. Likewise in the Senate. When House District 1 is in southern Maine, Senate District 1 is way north.

The Legislature was scheduled to meet on Sept. 29 to consider the commission’s recommendations. A two-thirds vote of the Legislature, as is expected on districts where the commission was in agreement, will endorse and implement them. Soon incumbent legislators choosing to run again will have to introduce themselves to towns new to their districts, and the forces of redistricting can stand down for another 10 years.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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