The U.S. Census is sexy.
That sentence is patently false as far as Maine is concerned. Unless you’re some kind of political weirdo with a kinky fetish for statistics, the new census numbers released in August are a bore. Not much changed, and what did change was expected.
Here are the details. Warning: Don’t drive or operate heavy machinery after reading.
There were about 34,000 more people in Maine in 2020 than the last time the census was taken in 2010. Almost all the new arrivals are in the 1st Congressional District in the southern part of the state. Cumberland County grew by 7.6 percent. York County jumped 7.5 percent.
It was a different story in the 2nd District, where only Androscoggin County (3.2 percent) and Hancock County (almost 2 percent) showed substantial growth. Aroostook County scared off 6.6 percent of its population. Washington County saw 5.4 percent of its residents evaporate, and Piscataquis County declined 4.2 percent, which wasn’t easy to do when it had hardly any people to begin with.
Unless you were one of those people who vanished, that probably doesn’t affect you. But it does affect Maine’s congressional districts, which by law have to be as close to equal in population as possible.
The result is that approximately 23,000 residents of the 1st District will have to be shifted into the 2nd District to even things up. The governor will soon order Maine National Guard troops to round up a bunch of hapless bozos and resettle them in northern Maine.
Just kidding. The way it works is a bipartisan redistricting commission made up of legislators redraws the line between the two districts. The most likely scenario is a few more towns in Kennebec County will become part of the 2nd District.
There’ll be some debate between Republicans and Democrats about which towns to move. The GOP doesn’t want both Waterville and Hallowell, heavily Democratic enclaves, added to the Republican-leaning 2nd CD. But there’s almost no rational way to make the two districts equal without at least one of them going north. For the GOP to avoid losing ground would require a complex series of moves that probably wouldn’t pass legal muster. So, the 2nd District is likely to become slightly bluer, although not enough to impact any but the closest races.
Whatever plan the commission comes up with needs to be almost free of controversy. That’s because it takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to approve the new lines. If lawmakers fail to agree, they lose control of the process, which is then handed over to the Maine Supreme Court. Nobody wants that to happen, least of all the justices.
Can this process get even less sexy? Why yes it can. Drawing new congressional districts is the easy part. The hard part is coming up with new legislative districts.
Each of the 35 state Senate districts should have almost 39,000 residents. That means the district in western Aroostook County represented by Democratic Senate President Troy Jackson, with only 34,000 people, is going to have to get a lot bigger. Some of the adjacent towns lean Republican, which won’t make Democrats happy.
The same sort of expansion will be required in several other rural districts in northern Maine, the net result being that there are going to be fewer senators from that part of the state.
The big beneficiary of that population shift will be the suburbs of Portland, where several districts are over 40,000, with Senate District 30, covering Gorham and parts of Scarborough and Buxton, topping out at close to 45,000.
Similar alterations are going to hit the Maine House of Representatives. Aroostook, Piscataquis, and Somerset counties will lose seats, while Cumberland and York counties will gain them. The southward shift of legislative seats is almost certain to make the Legislature more Democratic than it already is.
The bottom line is this will have almost no effect on your life, except you could get shifted into a new district next year, and face a ballot full of unfamiliar names. But since you probably don’t know who your state representative is anyway, that shouldn’t be a big deal.
Indecent takes on redistricting can be emailed to [email protected].