New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
Last chance to speak on new political maps
SHELTON — As the General Assembly’s Reapportionment Committee winds down and the next phase of drawing new political maps of Connecticut begins later in the week, there is a central theme that has emerged in the first three of four public hearings: voters want to be counted.
During a 45-minute public hearing in City Hall here on Monday - the third of four scheduled public hearings - taxpayers and state lawmakers alike stressed the need to maximize representation in the General Assembly.
But while some acknowledged that having more than one House and Senate member per town is a way to obtain added muscle in the legislature, Derby Town Clerk Marc Garofolo presented the committee of eight General Assembly members with a resolution from the local Board of Aldermen/Alderwomen, asking for just one state representative and one senator, rather than multiple lawmakers, as they have had in recent decades.
“The city of Derby has been split into at least two or three different state representative and Senate districts,” Garofalo told the committee of four Democrats and four Republicans. He noted that since the state’s Constitutional Convention of 1965, local officials believe the added lawmakers dilute the clout of city residents.
“The citizens of Derby deserve a unified voice with clarity of vision on the issues that are important to Connecticut’s smallest city,” Garofalo said, reading the alders’ resolution, adopted last year.
But John Szewczyk, the Republican second selectman in the town of Durham, acknowledged that his community of 7,500 east of Wallingford has benefited from being broken into multiple House and Senate districts. “Four representatives and senators has been huge,” Szewczyk said after listing positive and negatives for having several voices in the General Assembly. “We’ve had a lot of access. I can’t say whether our residents think it’s better or worse.”
With the announcement in August of decennial Census figures, months after the usual April release date, the committee is barely getting started. But under the state Constitution it will cease to exist after September 15, when it will be reconstituted into a nine-member commission with most of the same participants along with a new ninth member to be appointed by the governor who will break partisan ties as the panel tries to draw new congressional and General Assembly districts to reflect big growth in the western half of the state and a migration out of eastern Connecticut. It’s next deadline will be
“Wilton is the largest municipality without a resident senator or state rep, as I understand it, and Wilton is the largest municipality split into multiple districts, none of which are 50-percent or more of the district,” said veteran state Rep. Tom O’Dea, who represents New Canaan and Wilton. “It is unfair for the residents of Wilton to be split up the way they have been split up.”
State Rep. Gregg Haddad, DMansfield and state Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, RStratford, co-chairmen of the committee, said that the hearings - culminating Tuesday night at 7 in a virtual zoom hearing - have been major attempts to seek input from Connecticut residents, who this year have sophisticated tools in which they can draw their own map proposals, including Dave’s Redistricting and districtr.org.
More than 45 people have registered to speak for the Tuesday night hearing, but few have testified to the Reapportionment Committee over the last week.
At a public hearing in Norwich last Thursday, Dave Nowakowski, a resident of Lisbon cautioned the committee against splitting up small towns like his with less than 5,000 residents. Some residents of Lisbon are represented by state Rep. Doug Dubitsky and others are represented by Rep. Brian Lanoue, both Republicans.
“Rather than having two, for many people it feels like you have no representative because you are part of other towns that are wholly represented,” Nowakowski said.
Lisbon, with a population of 4,220, has two polling locations – not an insignificant cost for a small town, he added. Garofalo also cited the costs of running elections in Derby as a negative effect of being in multiple districts.
Last Wednesday night, during a 20-minute hearing in the socially distanced Legislative Office Building, officials from the
League of Women Voters and Common Cause in Connecticut joined a private citizen in asking the Reapportionment Committee to consider keeping under-represented communities together when redrawing maps for the state Senate, House of Representatives and the five congressional districts.
Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause, said the national goal of the organization is to assure fair and accurate redistricting processes across the country. “The basic point is that we believe that voters should choose their representatives rather than have representatives cherry pick their constituents,” Quickmire told the committee.
She said that in the past, district maps have been redrawn by politicians with little input from the public.
“Back in the day things were done, sort of behind closed doors,” Quickmire said. “And we really, really feel strongly that needs to be a public process and that there should be as much real transparency to create fair districts.”
Included in the new maps will be about 9,000 people incarcerated in state prisons who in the past have been counted as residents of the towns in which their institutions are located.
But a new law requires that the incarcerated be counted in their actual hometowns, complicating the map-making process even more for the state House and Senate.
“We really want to make sure that we are rebuilding trust in our government and ensuring that every voter has an equal opportunity to elect candidates that share their actual experience and values,” Quickmire said.
Laura Smits, president of the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, said voters are at the center of democracy and district mapping determines who is on the ballot.
“If voters don’t feel their vote will count because of the way their district is drawn, or feel that their preferred candidate has little chance of prevailing, they don’t vote,” Smits said. “Voter alienation equals voter suppression. Unfortunately, the redistricting process remains cloaked in mystery to many voters.”
She acknowledged that the late arrival of the data has created obstacles.
“While your committee is a bipartisan one, appointed by party leaders in the state Senate and House, this process is far from objective,” Smits said, stressing that the LWV would support a new, independent type of panel, made up of citizens, representatives of public-interest groups and members of minority communities.
After three of four public hearings on the new maps of congressional and General Assembly districts, state lawmakers on Monday stressed the importance of do-it-yourself proposals from the public.