Friday, April 18, 2014
AUGUSTA — The Legislature passed a compromise plan Tuesday to balance the population of Maine's two congressional districts.
The agreement negotiated by Republicans and Democrats, known as the "Waterville-Winslow" plan, affects only Kennebec County municipalities. Starting with the 2012 elections, it will move Waterville and Winslow from the 2nd Congressional District to the 1st District.
Eleven communities will move from the 1st District to the 2nd District: Albion, Unity Township, Sidney, Belgrade, Rome, Vienna, Mount Vernon, West Gardiner, Gardiner, Monmouth and Randolph.
Every other community in Maine will remain in its current district.
In June, a panel of federal judges ordered lawmakers to reapportion the two districts by Sept. 30 to eliminate a disparity of 8,667 residents that was revealed by the 2010 census, with more residents in the 1st District.
The districts approved Tuesday have a population difference of just one.
A plan that was endorsed in August by a bipartisan commission failed to win the support of members of both parties, so the Legislature appeared poised for a partisan showdown in Tuesday's special session.
Democrats rejected a Republican proposal for an east-west divide that would have put the hometown of 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree of North Haven in the 2nd District and Lewiston-Auburn in the 1st District.
Republicans rejected Democratic proposals to swap various Kennebec County towns to balance the population.
Republicans, who hold majorities in the House and Senate, also crafted a bill that would have allowed them to bypass the statutory requirement for two-thirds majorities to adopt a redistricting plan and pass their proposal Tuesday on a simple majority vote.
But late Monday, Republicans and Democrats said they were cautiously optimistic that a deal could be struck. A map that originally had been presented by Republicans to a handful of Democrats – but not been released to the public – ultimately emerged as the winning compromise.
Members of both parties disagree over how and why negotiations over the "Waterville-Winslow" map broke off this summer.
Democrats say Republicans pulled it off the table before the Democrats could say yes or no to it, and speculate that there wasn't enough support for it at the time in the conservative caucus.
Republicans say they felt that Democrats rejected the plan because they did not want to lose the Democratic city of Waterville from the 2nd District.
Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat who represents Maine's 2nd District, said Tuesday that he was disappointed to lose Waterville.
"Regardless of district lines or political party, our congressional delegation has a long tradition of working together to advocate for our state, and nothing today changes that," he said in a prepared statement.
Michaud also said he was "pleased to see that Augusta didn't turn into Washington. Mainers want compromise, and that's what they got with this plan."
Pingree said she was pleased that the Legislature was able to unite behind one plan. "In the end, common sense prevailed and the Legislature adopted a reasonable plan that was not unnecessarily disruptive," she said in a prepared statement.
The House voted 140-3 for final passage of the proposal, which won unanimous approval in the Senate.
State Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville, opposed the plan.
"I am most concerned we will likely lose a federal congressional district office that is now located in downtown Waterville and provides services to thousands of residents in Kennebec and Somerset counties," he said. "This was not a bipartisan victory, but a last-minute deal made without a public hearing."
During Tuesday's floor debate, leaders of the redistricting effort on both sides praised the others' efforts.
"I think both parties have stepped forward and stepped up to reach an agreement which meets constitutional and statutory standards," said Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport.
Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said, "(We) eventually got to a ... I want to say 'victory,' for the people of Maine," he said.
If the Legislature had failed to reach an agreement Tuesday, the redistricting would have been left to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org