Democrats rip GOP proposal on U.S. House

Morning Sentinel (Waterville, ME) - Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Author: SUSAN M. COVER, Staff Writer

AUGUSTA - A Republican proposal to radically change the state's two congressional districts is drawing fire from Democrats who say only minor revisions are needed. 

Republican members of the state's Reapportionment Commission are proposing to divide the state into two eastern and western districts rather than the current north-south division. The plan would eliminate the state's traditional "other Maine" divide, they say. 

"Our intent is to find a way to make the two districts more equal in land area and guarantee both members of Congress have a stake in northern Maine as well as southern and coastal Maine," said David Emery, a former U.S. congressman who is drawing up the proposals for the Republicans. 

But Democrats support adjusting the current line to accommodate population changes in Kennebec County. They say the Republican plan gives southern Maine too much power. 

"It's pretty much a joke," said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Kenneth Gagnon, D-Waterville. "It would isolate everything from Cumberland County north." 

Among the changes proposed by the Democrats is one to move Waterville into the 2nd District. 

"We often have much more in common with the Kennebec Valley to the north," Gagnon said. 

The Reapportionment Commission has until April 4 to agree on a plan. It will then go forward for legislative approval. If it does not gain support from two-thirds of the Legislature, it will go to the state Supreme Court. 

That's what happened 10 years ago, when the court approved the Republican proposals with some changes. 

The commission is also hammering out new lines for state House and Senate seats. Emery said both sides are near agreement on the state House districts, but are far apart on the state Senate districts. 

Emery said the new Republican proposal for Congressional districts brings the population of each district within one person of being equal, based on 2000 census numbers. 

It also makes it so the state's two current congressmen, Democrats Mike Michaud and Tom Allen, would live in the same district. 

"It pits the two incumbents against each other," Gagnon said. "We would prefer to have competitive districts." 

Emery said the U.S. Constitution requires members of Congress to live in the state they represent, not the particular district. 

Philip Merrill, an attorney who represents the Democrats on the commission, said the Republican plan does not meet the requirements that the districts be compact. The redrawn 2nd District runs from Cape Elizabeth to Estcourt Station in the far reaches of northern Maine. 

"It gets rid of the two Maines in the same way Republicans like to get rid of poverty," Merrill said, "by ignoring it." 

Merrill also suggested that, in the future, the state may want to consider removing the two-thirds requirement for legislative approval to keep the matter out of the courts. Maine is one of the last states in the country to complete its redistricting, a process that should be done as soon as census numbers become available, Merrill said. 

The state Senate lines will prove to be contentious, both sides say. The Republican Senate plan makes minor changes, Emery said. 

Senate Minority Leader Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, said the two sides have swapped maps and are preparing to enter negotiations. 

"The Senate Democratic map is, in our minds, as ridiculous as our congressional map is in their minds," Davis said. 

The Democrats want to make sure the districts allow fair representation in the Senate. 

"If we did the job perfectly, if more people voted for Democrats than Republicans, it would be reflected in the state Senate," Merrill said.