Maine panel votes to back Democrats’ districts plan

By Glenn Adams
Associated Press / August 31, 2011

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AUGUSTA, Maine - A bipartisan panel charged with drawing up new boundaries for Maine’s two congressional districts voted 8-7 yesterday in favor of a Democratic plan that makes minimal changes to the present line.

The Reapportionment Commission chairman, political independent Michael Friedman, sided with a compromise plan advanced by Democrats after Republican and Democratic members of the commission voted along party lines to support plans offered by their respective parties.

The Democrats’ plan leaves Cumberland, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, York, and part of Kennebec counties in the First District, as they are now, and the rest of Maine in the Second. The commission faced a deadline today to submit a plan. The full Legislature will meet Sept. 27 to take up the recommendation.

After a round of speeches in which commission members defended their choices, Friedman said he was unconcerned about “political posturing or rhetoric’’ in reaching his decision, but rather based it on the merits of the competing plans.

Friedman said he concluded that the proposal causing the least disruption to voters who would shift to different districts was the best.

“This was a very difficult choice. I think all the plans have some pluses and some minuses,’’ said Friedman, but “the less movement the better.’’

Republicans offered two plans yesterday. One replaces the present boundary line, which runs roughly in an east-west direction, with a new north-south line. The other, labeled a “consensus plan,’’ sought to address Democratic concerns and redrew lines to more closely resemble the current configuration.

But after yesterday’s vote, Republicans decided to offer their original, north-south proposal as an alternative to the Democratic plan to the Legislature. When taking up the matter, lawmakers must approve a final plan by a two-thirds majority. Failure to do so sends the issue to the state supreme court, which also adopted a final reapportionment map in 2003.

While Republicans have a legislative majority, they do not have a two-thirds lock in the Legislature.

“The vote that counts will be the one taken by the Maine House of Representatives and Senate during the special legislative session,’’ said Representative Ken Fredette of Newport, a Republican member of the commission. “I would rather the Legislature, not the courts, resolve this.’’

Democrats hailed the vote for what they called a “simple and reasonable’’ plan.

“The goal of this proposal was to put forth the least disruptive plan, while also addressing the top priority of our Republican colleagues to create a one-person population difference between districts,’’ said Senator Seth Goodall of Richmond, lead negotiator for the Democrats.

The Democratic plan brings the population difference between districts down to one while shifting seven towns, or 19,192 people, from one district to another. It moves the towns of Gardiner, Vassalboro, Vienna, Rome, and Unity Township to the Second Congressional District, and places the towns of Oakland and Wayne in the First District.