Wanted: Elder statesman; must like puzzles

The legislature's bipartisan Reapportionment Committee formally acknowledged today what was made clear last week: its deadline of Sept. 15 will come and go without any new maps for legislative or congressional districts. As a result, they need to find a ninth member acceptable to Democrats and Republicans.

Under the law, the bipartisan committee of eight must become a nine-member commission, with a new deadline of Nov. 30 to draw congressional and state legislative districts. The four Democrats and four Republicans say they are seeking an "elder statesman" as their ninth and so-called neutral member.

They apparently are in short supply.

Nelson Brown, a Republican who was House speaker in 1957, was the ninth member in 1991 and 2001. The committee opened its meeting today with a moment of silence for Brown, who died last week at age 89, and a wistful observance they now need to find someone like him.

Missing the deadline is the norm in the first phase of Connecticut's decennial exercise in drawing new maps to reflect population changes, and it does not signify a political deadlock--yet.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said the missed deadline signifies only a need for more time to complete the puzzle of drawing five congressional, 36 state Senate and 151 state House districts, not "any partisan rancor or acrimony."

"It's a very tedious and complicated process," said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk. "It's tricky. Tricky stuff."

Most of the state's population growth occurred in the northeast corner, and Cafero says they must spread the population west and south to balance the districts.

Cafero and Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, are co-chairs of the committee, which is evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans, and House and Senate members.

The potential for mischief and intrigue seems greatest in drawing the congressional map, since five of eight announced candidates for the open seat in the 5th Congressional District live in border towns, vulnerable to finding themselves in a new district.

One of them is House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden. His city borders the 3rd and the 1st, as does Cheshire, home of one of Donovan's rivals for the Democratic nomination, former Rep. Elizabeth Esty.

Donovan is a committee member.

The committee members say they have not begun work on the congressional districts, nor have they discussed whether they will try to avoid tilting a congressional nomination with a new map.

With a smile, McKinney said he can assure every candidate for Congress that they still will be eligible to run after redistricting, even if he declined to promise where they will be eligible to run.

Technically, the eight-member committee goes out of business on the 15th, and it is up to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to name a new eight-member commission, whose member then will pick a ninth member.

But past practice indicates the eight committee members will populate the new commission, and that is the assumption this year,

"We're going to keep on working," Williams said.

The four House members have been working on state House districts, while the four senators have been working on senate districts. The congressional districts always come last, they said.

"Ten years ago, we had not discussed Congress at all at this stage," said Rep. Arthur O'Neill, R-Southbury, the only member to also serve on the 2001 panel.

A decade ago, the congressional map was much more difficult undertaking. As the result of its slow rate of population growth compared to states in the west and south, Connecticut lost one of its six U.S. House seats.

The challenge in 2001 was to draw a new district that gave two incumbents, Democrat James Maloney of the 5th and Republican Nancy Johnson of the 6th, a fair shot at winning in the newly drawn 5th. While the map was contorted 10 years ago to accomodate them, both have exited politics.

Johnson defeated Maloney in 2002, but she lost to Democrat Chris Murphy in 2006. Now, Murphy is running for U.S. Senate, drawing five would-be congressmen into the race to succeed him--if they still live in the district on Nov. 30.

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