Connecticut’s bipartisan Reapportionment Commission adopted new district maps for the state House of Representatives on Thursday, leaving incumbents scrambling to assess the impact on reelection prospects in 2022.
Despite population losses, Hartford appears likely to still control six House seats, thanks to mapmakers crossing the Connecticut River to place 3,282 South Windsor residents in the 5th District represented by Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford. The district already included the southern third of Windsor.
Stamford, the state’s second-largest and fastest-growing city, picked up a seventh House seat, a reflection of nearly all population growth recorded in the 2020 Census coming in Fairfield County.
No one seeking reelection in the 151-member House was drawn out of their current district, but several face harder races as a result of revisions, most notably a freshman, Rep. Brian Smith, D-Colchester, and a progressive leader, Rep. Anne Hughes, D-Easton.
Neighboring incumbents, two Democrats and a Republican, should have easier races. One is Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, a prominent conservative who was reelected by just seven votes over Democrat Jim Jinks of Cheshire. Fishbein’s redrawn 90th District no longer will include Jinks’ neighborhood.
“Now, he doesn’t even have the opportunity to run again. It is an egregious thing,” said Courtney Cullinan, the Democratic town chair of Cheshire. “It’s so blatantly political. And I understand redistricting. Look, I’m doing it.” Cullinan is deputy chief of staff to the Senate Democrats.
Fishbein’s new district will have more of Wallingford, all of Middlefield and none of Cheshire. The changes make Fishbein’s district more Republican, while benefitting Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, and Rep. Michael Quinn, D-Meriden. Quinn’s district, which now includes suburban Middlefield, is wholly within Democratic Meriden in the new map.
The closely guarded map was posted on the Reapportionment Commission website after the unanimous vote, giving the public and rank-and-file House members their first glance at Connecticut’s new political terrain.
Hughes, the leader of the House Progressive Caucus, immediately saw that the eastern portion of Easton, near where she lives, now was in a district with neighboring Monroe.
“I just texted as soon as I as soon as I saw the map, and I was like, ‘I’m still living my district, right?’” Hughes said.
House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, the co-chair of the commission, assured her that was the case.
Her 135th district actually got safer for Democrats, but Easton will be a weaker base if she is challenged in a primary by a Democrat from neighboring Weston, which has the bigger share of voters and nominating convention delegates.
Smith, who won a special election in 2020 in the 48th District, succeeding the late Linda Orange, lost a portion of Democratic Mansfield and picked up Bozrah and Franklin. The changes will make the district friendlier to the GOP.
Despite the loss of Democratic voters, Smith had no complaints about changes put all of Colchester, as well as Bozrah and Franklin, in one district. His existing district was widely considered to favor political considerations at the expense respecting geographic boundaries. It includes sections of Colchester, Lebanon, Mansfield and Windham.
“Most people, myself included, have always been of the opinion that that was a very strange district,” Smith said. “This one makes more sense.”
If the 48th makes more sense, the adjacent 139th represented by Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, no longer does. With the loss of Bozrah, the 139th rises from Montville and claws through the middle of Norwich.
The recently announced retirement of Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, eased the way to accommodate Rep. Cara Pavalock-D’Amato, R-Bristol, who is moving to a new home in Betts’ 78th District.
“It was interesting because Cara would have retired and run possibly in the 78th when Whit retired,” said House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford.
Instead, her 77th District was revised to encompass her new neighborhood in Bristol.
In northeastern Connecticut, the 52nd District of Rep. Kurt Vail, R-Stafford, had to be redrawn due to the population loss seen in much of the region, plus an additional one: By virtue of a new state law, inmates no longer are counted where they are imprisoned; they are are counted in the communities in which they had resided before imprisonment.
Vail’s district includes Somers, the home of two prisons. To accommodate the population loss, his district now will include Union and a portion of Woodstock.
As speaker, Ritter was in a position to protect Hartford’s districts, but he noted there was more than parochial interests in doing so: One of the goals of redistricting was to promote the influence of minority communities or, at the very least, do nothing to diminish it.
“We did not dilute one of those districts,” Ritter said. “They’re all the same as they were. That was not negotiable for anybody in the room.”
To achieve that goal, one Hartford district, the 5th, will cross the Connecticut River, apparently for the first time, and another will spill into a corner of West Hartford. It is not the first Hartford-West Hartford district: a previous version was represented the speaker’s uncle, John Ritter.
The 6th District represented by Rep. Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford, will draw from a portion of West Hartford represented by Rep. Kate Farrar, D-West Hartford. Farrar’s 20th District, now wholly in West Hartford, will reach south into Newington.
Lobbying by Wilton and Goshen succeeded in the new map centering a district in Wilton and placing all of currently divided Goshen in the sprawling 64th District of northwestern Connecticut.
The new district covering Wilton is dubbed the 42nd, underscoring the loss of population in the east and the gains in the southwest. Under the current map, the 42nd crosses the eastern rural towns of Ledyard, Montville and Preston and is represented by Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard. He is running for Congress instead of reelection, meaning its disappearance will not dispossess an incumbent.
The Reapportionment Commission actually functions as two separate units: Four House members, two from each party, working on House districts; and four senators, two from each party, focusing on Senate districts.
As required by the state Constitution, the eight lawmakers appointed a ninth member, former Senate GOP Leader John McKinney, as a tiebreaker, if necessary.
Only the four House members saw the House map before voting, and Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, noted for the record he was voting to accept the work of the House without seeing it.
The Senate still is working on its map, and negotiations on a congressional map will wait until the Senate is done.
The congressional map is unlikely to be done before the constitutional deadline of Nov. 30, meaning it will be adopted under the supervision of the Connecticut Supreme Court.