GOP bends, Democrats stand pat on congressional map

Encouraged by new guidelines from the state Supreme Court, Democrats today proposed a congressional district map that makes minimal changes in the five U.S. House districts dominated by Democrats since 2008.

Republicans modified the map they last proposed, but the GOP still is pushing for changes that would make the open 5th Congressional District seat more competitive in 2012.

Democrats and Republicans on the bipartisan Reapportionment Commission had until noon today to file their proposed maps for consideration by the court’s special master, Professor Nathaniel Persily of Columbia.

Democratic CD map

Democratic map maintains irregular border of 5th (light blue) and 1st (dark purple.)

New GOP map

New GOP map: the 1st (purple) juts into 5th (light blue.)

GOP final CD map

Previous GOP map created a ‘compact’ 1st and 5th, undoing the ‘claw’ created in 2001.

Persily, who is barred by the court from commenting on the plans, will conduct a public hearing on the maps Monday at noon in the Legislative Office Building.

Earlier this week, the court issued instructions to Persily that Democrats interpreted as siding with their long-held contention that the map adopted in 2001 can be re-used with minor changes to reflect slight shifts in population.

“In developing the plan,” the court said in its instructions order, “the Special Master shall modify the existing congressional districts only to the extent reasonably required to comply with the following applicable legal requirements…”

Those requirements are that the districts be equal in population, consist of contiguous territory and meet “other applicable provisions of the Voting Rights Act and federal law.”

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, the co-chairman of the Reapportionment Commission, said that the reference to other “applicable provisions” of the Voting Rights Act and federal law suggests the special master has flexibility to make more than minimal changes.

But Aaron Bayer, the Democrats’ lawyer, said in a brief filed today that the existing map is in compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

“No voting Rights Act questions were raised about the 2001 congressional districts, and only minimal population shifts have occurred since that plan was adopted,” he wrote. “As a result, no changes to the current congressional districts are ‘reasonably required to comply with’ the Act.”

The Democratic plan makes no changes in 164 of the 169 towns. It equalizes the populations of the districts by shifting the lines in four communities currently divided between two districts: Glastonbury, Middletown, Shelton and Waterbury.

Durham, now split between the 2nd and 3rd districts, would be united in the 3rd. Torrington, which is split between the 1st and 5th, would be unchanged.

The Republican map proposed today focuses only on the irregular border of the 1st and 5th, the result of a bipartisan gerrymander in 2001 to accommodate two incumbents, Democrat James Maloney and Republican Nancy Johnson, who both landed in the 5th after the state lost a House seat.

“The political compromise of 2001 is no longer relevant,” the GOP says in its brief.

The latest Republican map would swap New Britain, a solid Democratic city in the 5th, with six Republican-leaning towns now in the 1st: Colebrook, Winchester, Hartland, Barkhamsted, New Hartford and Granby.

“Not only do these towns represent the most egregious evidence of the gerrymandering that occurred at the time of the last redistricting, they have natural communities of interest with the rest of the Fifth District and little in common with the First,” the GOP says in its accompanying brief.

The oddest portion of the GOP’s new and old maps is a section of the 5th that just into the first to keep the towns of Cheshire and Meriden in the 5th. House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, and former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Cheshire are congressional candidates in the 5th.

Republicans bowed to political convention — the commission worked to keep all candidates and incumbents in existing districts — even though the court’s instructions to the special master said, “In fashioning his plan, the Special Master shall not consider either the residency of incumbents or potential candidates or other political data, such as party registration statistics or election returns.”