The Republican view of the CT congressional map makes sense

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Go have a seventh grade student divide Connecticut into five regions, each with exactly the same population. Tell him the idea is to keep towns and villages together in areas where people tend to shop, attend cultural and sporting events, and work in the same parts of the state.

She would come back with a map showing Fairfield County along the Stamford-Norwalk-Bridgeport corridor; larger New Haven; and greater Hartford. It all follows major freeways, Interstate 91, Interstate 95, and the Merritt / Wilbur Cross parkways.

This is what the US Census and other federal agencies use to determine “standard metropolitan statistical areas.”

For the other two regions, it would include the large number of towns in the northwest of the state, crisscrossed by the Route 8 corridor through Torrington to Winsted and by Interstate 84 from Danbury to Waterbury and Southington. Then it would end up with the vast eastern half of the state as its fifth region.

This natural order is how the Connecticut Republicans propose to draw congressional district boundaries, which makes a lot of sense.

Ben Proto, the state president of the GOP, showed me the map suggested by the party and it has the added benefit of not dividing Waterbury and Torrington into different districts.

But that won’t happen. With a day before the December 21 deadline to redraw the map, the bipartisan Redistribution Commission appears to be at an impasse.

Democrats insist on retaining the “lobster claw” form of the 1st District, which includes New Britain and the Farmington Valley in the 5th and Winsted, Bristol and most of Torrington in the 1st.

The reason: It’s a combination of history and good old-fashioned political gerrymandering of the kind we love to hate when we see Republicans doing it in places like Texas and North Carolina.

The historical part dates back to 2001, when Connecticut lost a seat in Congress. Can-Rep. Nancy Johnson, a Republican from New Britain, wanted to keep her job in the old 6th arrondissement. The two sides therefore agreed to include New Britain and Meriden in the new 5th, which triggered the lobster claw form of the 1st. The Republicans kept Johnson in power; Dems has gained the upper hand in the long run.

The political part is as follows: the current configuration gives Representative Jahana Hayes, the Democrat elected in the 5th arrondissement in 2018, an advantage over any Republican, compared to the removal of the label.

How important is a benefit? It is important. Figures provided by Proto, based on the map suggested by the GOP, show that the current 5th District has a “Partisan Voter Index” of 52% Democrats versus 45.5% Republicans. It’s based on how people actually voted in the last election, not voter registration.

The new map, as proposed by the GOP, gives the GOP an advantage, just under 50% Republicans to just under 48% Democrats. And the population of racial minorities or Hispanic residents in the 5th would drop from 32.5% to 27%.

District lines need to change somewhat, to meet new census numbers and rebalance the state. Democrats want to keep things more or less where they are, with just enough tweaks to balance the numbers.

A big change in the 5th arrondissement would be a huge demand from Democrats at precisely the worst time. As it stands, Hayes is the only one of the five incumbents, all Democrats, who could lose her seat in November, in a likely race against former State Senator George Logan, a Republican. The rest are safe seats for Democrats.

And to make it difficult, Republicans are more than likely to take control of the US House, which would elevate Rep. Kevin McCarthy, now the Republican leader, as Speaker of the House. This is the same Kevin McCarthy who is so indebted to former President Donald Trump that he led the charge in the shameful Jan.6 attack on the Electoral College – in effect voting to reject the legitimate election results a few hours after a Trump mob stormed the Capitol.

Democrats could be excused for doing everything in their power to avoid giving McCarthy another member. McCarthy and his gang of false “patriots” pose a threat to free elections. To be clear, Logan is not part of this gang and is not particularly related to Trump or McCarthy, but he would be part of their caucus as a Conservative vote.

Either way, Democrats need to do the right thing now on the redistribution. The lobster claw is just plain wrong and voting habits will change over the next decade and beyond anyway. If a Democratic incumbent can’t beat a challenger in Blue Connecticut in a tightly divided district, she shouldn’t be in Congress.

What we are talking about is a successful business: New Britain, Farmington, Plainville, Avon, Simsbury and Canton from 5th to 1st. Bristol and most of Torrington, as well as five sparsely populated towns (including the Borough or Winsted) would drop from 1st to 5th.

The 3rd District, Greater New Haven, would gain most of Meriden, who is now in 5th. Oxford, now in 4th, would move up to 5th. The 1st would become less democratic, but it is already so much that a Democrat should be indicted for murder to lose.

“The current card, the claw, the leg, whatever you want to call it, is designed to achieve a political outcome,” Proto said. “Democrats want everything as is usually the case, even if it means the residents of these neighborhoods are not being properly served by the communities of interest.”

I spoke briefly with Senator Martin Looney, D-New Haven, the Acting President of the Senate and member of the committee. He confirmed that the political implications make Democrats unlikely to give in.

Democrats say it’s unclear. “Just because it’s clean doesn’t mean it’s not a gerrymander,” said an agent for Dem, who added that Danbury, Waterbury, Meriden and New Britain give the 5th a significant Hispanic population – this which is equivalent to a community of interest.

Rep. Wine. Candelora, R-North Branford, House Leader of the GOP, gives hope for a compromise. The map Proto provided is not the same as the version he and other Republicans gave to the Dems a few days ago.

“If we are sticking to getting New Britain into the 1st, that obviously won’t be acceptable to them,” said Candelora. “The question is, what change is acceptable?”

Obviously, there is no perfect solution when it comes to communities of common interest. For example, Cheshire belongs to 3rd along with Wallingford and Meriden but remains in 5th under the current GOP plan and Madison remains separated from Guilford.

If the commission remains deadlocked and the map-making is left to the state Supreme Court, the changes will be minor – as the court itself said in an opinion 10 years ago.

Painful as it may be, Democrats, who are battling gerrymandering with a bill in Congress and federal lawsuits, must set an example in Connecticut by doing the right thing. Then they can fight like hell to keep the seats they occupy.

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