The Connecticut Supreme Court was asked on Friday to extend the deadline for drawing new congressional districts to Dec. 21, an effort to keep the politically sensitive task in the hands of state legislators.
The legislature’s bipartisan redistricting commission sought the extension after missing its deadline of midnight Wednesday. It unanimously approved new districts for 151 state House and 36 state Senate districts.
But Democratic and Republican negotiators on the commission disagree sharply over a congressional map, with Republicans seeking major changes that would transform the 4th District into a GOP stronghold and improve the party’s chances in the 5th.
Ten years ago, the commission members convinced the Supreme Court to grant it more time for congressional redistricting, but its members could tell the court in good faith that substantial progress was being made.
In 2001, the state had a six-member U.S. House delegation, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans united on one point: no one wanted to risk leaving a new congressional map to an unpredictable court.
Today, that is not the case.
All five seats — slow population growth cost a seat in 2001 — are now held by Democrats, meaning there is little downside for the GOP to roll the dice by giving the Supreme Court a shot at drawing new congressional districts.
Democrats have proposed a map that makes minimal changes from 2001 to balance population in the districts.
“I thought the Democratic proposal made a lot of sense,” said U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District.
Republicans say that the Democrats love the existing map only because they now hold all five districts.
Republicans offered a version that they say eliminates the oddly drawn borders required in 2001 to craft a 5th Congressional District that provided a level playing field for two incumbents forced to compete for one seat, Democrat James Maloney of Danbury and Republican Nancy Johnson of New Britain.
The new GOP map removes both Danbury and New Britain from the 5th. Danbury would be included in the 4th, while New Britain would become part of the 1st.
But the map also would greatly diminish the re-election chances of U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, by shifting heavily Democratic Bridgeport, crucial to Himes’ victory in 2008 and re-election in 2010, to the 3rd District.
“It’s beyond blatantly obvious what they are trying to do,” Larson said.
House Minority Leader Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, the co-chairman of the commission, said the GOP map offers five districts that make sense geographically, regardless of the political parties.
Larson and the rest of the Connecticut delegation met Thursday in Washington with U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, to talk about redistricting. The timing of the meeting was a coincidence, Larson said.
Larson, who participated in the 1990 redistricting as a state Senate leader, said he told his colleagues there was little they could do but watch.
“Having done this once as the Senate president, I could tell them, ‘You have no role,’ ” he said.
When it comes to redistricting, the Connecticut Democrats’ possession of all five seats actually disadvantages them. If the GOP held one or two seats, Republicans on the bipartisan commission would be under pressure from their own incumbents to agree on a map without court intervention.
CORRECTION: Based on information provided by the attorney general’s office, this story originally reported the court granted the extension.