AUGUSTA — Most of the nearly 50 people who spoke at a hearing on proposed new congressional districts Tuesday said they oppose a Republican plan that makes broad changes, but the opinions aired were as sharply divergent as the two political parties’ proposals.

Members of both parties said they would keep negotiating in hopes of reaching a compromise by Monday on the three proposals, two by Democrats and one by Republicans.

“A vote will occur next week,” said independent Michael Friedman, chairman of the Congressional Reapportionment Commission. “I’m hoping it will be 15-0.”

Last week, Republicans released a plan that would move Androscoggin County, Oxford County and some Franklin County towns from the 2nd District to the 1st District. They also proposed to move Knox County – which includes North Haven, the hometown of Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree – from the 1st District to the 2nd District, along with Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties.

The GOP proposal would change the congressional district of 360,000 Mainers, but set up two districts with just a one-person difference in population.

At Tuesday’s public hearing, Jim Matlack of Rockport said he was “deeply opposed to the radical redistricting plan put forward by the Republicans.”

“Neither law nor custom nor common decency can justify such a massive disruption,” he said. “Indeed, the only rationale for the radical Republican plan is a blatant attempt to seek partisan advantage.”

However, Bruce Sedgwick of Jefferson said he believes the Republican plan is fair.

“Most important, the voters spoke clearly in the election last fall that they were looking for Republican leadership,” he said. “It is that leadership that is reflected in the Republican redistricting plan.”

State Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, said Republicans want to update districts that have been modified in recent years, but have remained largely unchanged since 1961.

“If it was a piece of furniture, it would be an old, ugly piece of furniture,” she said.

Lawmakers are redrawing the lines this year because of a federal court ruling in June. A three-judge panel ruled that the current districts are unconstitutional because the number of people living in each district differs by more than 8,600, according to census figures. The 1st District has 668,515 people, and the 2nd District has 659,848.

The full Legislature is scheduled to come back to vote on new district lines Sept. 27. If the Legislature does not approve the new lines with a two-thirds vote, it will be up to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to do it. The court set the lines the past two times they were redrawn, in 1993 and 2003.

Democrats have released two proposals.

One moves only Vassalboro from the 1st District to the 2nd District. That plan has a population difference of 11 people.

The other, known as the China-Vassalboro plan, puts Unity Township, China, Vassalboro, Rome and Albion in the 2nd District and moves Oakland and Wayne to the 1st District. The plan has a three-person difference in population.

Penny Plourde of Vassalboro said that although she would prefer that no changes be made, she understands the court mandate. She said Vassalboro has a lot in common with Waterville, which is in the 2nd District.

“I urge this redistricting committee to be bold, honorable and above all else, put Maine voters first,” she said. “Implement the Democratic recommendation.”

Dena Worster of Palmyra said the Republican plan would help end the feeling that Maine is a divided state that pits southern Maine against northern Maine. She said Pingree, who also has a home in Portland, would not be hurt by the change.

Before Tuesday’s meeting ended, Republicans released a statement saying the Democrats don’t want to compromise. Republicans said they offered a consensus proposal last week that would have left Pingree’s hometown in the 1st District, as well as keeping Lewiston and Auburn in the 2nd District.

“Basically we met all of their objections and left it on the table for four days,” Plowman said. “Total capitulation was the next step, and we’re not going there.”

State Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, said Republicans “pulled back on (the plan) at the last minute.” He said negotiations will continue for the next several days.

“If we make a few changes, we believe we can get a deal done,” he said.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]