AUGUSTA  — The state commission formed to recommend changes to Maine’s congressional districts deadlocked along party lines Tuesday in voting 8-7 to back a Democratic proposal.

The recommended plan is not expected to get the two-thirds majority votes it will need in the Legislature to become law. Many expect further negotiations will be necessary before a special legislative session in late September.

The 15-member Reapportionment Commission comprises seven Democrats and seven Republicans, chaired by an independent, Michael Friedman, who broke the tie by siding with the Democrats’ latest proposal.

Friedman, of Bangor, said he had hoped the process would be simple and devoid of politics.

“I was probably naive because I thought to myself, how hard would it be to draw a line?” he said. “I couldn’t get the donkey and the elephant to move a stitch, even though I tried.”

The entire commission paid too little attention to independent voters – the largest voting bloc in Maine, Friedman said.

“Maybe the political parties don’t always get it, but the Maine voters get it, because we’re independent, as a group,” he said. “And great candidates get elected, regardless of the shape and size and constituency of a district. We have seen it.”

Friedman voted for the Democrats’ proposal because he said it offered the simplest solution.

It would move fewer people and towns between congressional districts, would split only one county, would not significantly expand the 2nd Congressional District (already the largest east of the Mississippi River), and would keep Androscoggin County in the 2nd District and Cumberland and Lincoln counties in the 1st District, where they have been since 1961.

“Based upon my view of my role on this commission, the less movement the better,” Friedman said, claiming he paid no attention to the perceived partisan advantages to any of the plans that were proposed.

The approved plan was the Democrats’ third public offering. It would redistribute seven Kennebec County towns – moving Gardiner, Vassalboro, Vienna, Rome and Unity Township to the 2nd District and putting Oakland and Wayne in the 1st District. The result would be a population difference of one person between the districts, based on the 2010 census.

The commission was formed in response to a federal court ruling in June that Maine must redraw its congressional districts to reflect population shifts in time for the 2012 elections.

The 2010 census showed that the population of the 1st District – York, Cumberland, Lincoln, Sagadahoc and Knox counties and part of Kennebec County – was 668,515, while 659,848 people lived in the 2nd District.

Republicans on the commission voted Tuesday in support of their original proposal, known as the “western Maine” plan, calling for a north-south district line.

It would put Androscoggin and Oxford counties and parts of Franklin County in the 1st District. Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties – including 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree’s hometown of North Haven – would be in the 2nd District.

Members of Congress traditionally live in the districts they represent, but are not required to live there.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, said she gets Friedman’s logic even if she disagrees with him.

“I understood very well the comments of the chair, especially through stripping back from the nonpolitical and looking at just, how do you make this as simple as possible?” she said. “I absolutely understand his rationale. Do I agree with it? No.”

Lawmakers from both parties agree that neither plan has the support it needs to become law. They will take the weekend off before continuing talks.

They acknowledge that Republicans, who have House and Senate majorities, could vote to change the law requiring two-thirds votes, to require only majority votes, then pass the redistricting plan of their choice.

“If we decided collectively that we wanted to do that, we could do that,” said Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney, R-Sanford. “But I don’t think that’s in anybody’s best interest at this point.”

Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, said he hopes it won’t come to that, noting that lawmakers just voted to amend the Maine Constitution to require two-thirds votes for congressional redistricting. Right now, it’s merely a statute. Maine voters will have a chance to approve the constitutional amendment in November’s election.

“This isn’t over,” he said. “Despite being at odds with one another, we are friends and we are committed to the state of Maine and we need to make sure we get the job done.”

Lawmakers are scheduled to meet Sept. 27 to vote on the issue. If they cannot resolve it, the matter will be taken up by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: rmetzler@mainetoday.com