Greens file suit against redistricting plan - A plan drawn up by state Democrats, with tepid GOP support, would sever the voter base of newly elected Portland Rep. John Eder

Portland Press Herald (ME) - Saturday, May 17, 2003
Author: KELLEY BOUCHARD Staff Writer

The Green Independent Party filed a lawsuit Friday challenging the redistricting plan that would separate state Rep. John Eder, the nation's highest-elected Green Party member, from most of the West End voters who put him in office last November. 

Green Independents say the remapping, drawn up by Democrats and reluctantly supported by Republicans, would effectively dismantle Eder's support base. They also say it would preserve Democratic strongholds in Portland and leave the Legislature's only Green Independent vulnerable in the 2004 election. 

The lawsuit, filed in Maine Supreme Judicial Court, charges that the 2003 apportionment plan - adopted April 15 by the Legislature - constitutes gerrymandering of the House districts in Portland. It claims that the Apportionment Commission violated a requirement of the Maine Constitution that each district must be contiguous and compact. The plan removes Portland's island communities from the Munjoy Hill district and groups them with the East Deering neighborhood located farther away. 

"The goal is to bring the reapportionment in line with constitutional requirements," said David Lourie, a former Portland city attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Green Independent Party members. 

Democrats on the Apportionment Commission said the plan was the best way to deal with population shifts across the state, and that Eder wasn't the only representative affected. Republicans said they didn't like the damage it did to Eder's district, but they weren't willing to jeopardize the remapping compromise they had reached with Democrats. Eder wasn't involved in the redistricting because the process is limited to the two major parties. 

Eder was elected last fall to his first term as House District 31 representative. He drew support from all parties and took 67 percent of the vote, beating Democrat David Garrity's 33 percent. 

Under the redistricting plan, the West End was combined with House District 32, represented since November by Democrat Edward Suslovic. He won 59 percent of the vote against the incumbent Democrat-turned-Republican and a Green Independent. His district included Stroudwater, Libbytown, outer Brighton Avenue and part of the West End. 

Eder's Old Port neighborhood was combined with House District 30, representing Democrat-controlled Munjoy Hill. With the remapping, if Eder did seek re-election, he would face Munjoy Hill Democrat Benjamin Dudley, who was elected to a third term last fall with 81 percent of the vote. 

Lourie said the remapping removed Portland's islands, including Peaks and Great Diamond, from the Munjoy Hill district and grouped them with the East Deering neighborhood. That lowered the population of Dudley's district enough so that it could be stretched to encompass Eder's neighborhood, Lourie said. 

He said the islands must be linked with Munjoy Hill and the Portland peninsula because it's the closest land mass. He noted the 1992 ruling by the Alaska Supreme Court when it upheld challenges to that state's reapportionment based on Alaska's irregular coastline. 

The court found that "the potential to include open sea in an election district is not without limits. If it were, then any part of coastal Alaska could be considered contiguous with any other part of the Pacific Rim. To avoid this result, the constitution provides the additional requirement(s) of compactness." 

"They can't legally separate the islands from the peninsula," Lourie said.