Partisan redistricting may be flourishing elsewhere, but Maine’s abbreviated process – necessitated by census data delays – produced unanimous agreement during the 15-member Apportionment Commission’s final day of work Monday, Sept. 27.
That means a special legislative session scheduled for Sept. 29 should be largely pro forma as Maine completes the redistricting of congressional and legislative districts required by the U.S. Constitution after each decennial census.
Josh Tardy, a lobbyist and former Republican legislator, said such agreements are more common in Maine than elsewhere, thanks to the state Constitution’s requirements for two-thirds votes to approve district maps.
“Nobody really wants the (Supreme Judicial) Court to decide, especially on such a tight schedule,” Tardy said. “There was really a lot of pressure to make a deal.”
Several commissioners credited Don Alexander, the former high court justice serving as non-partisan chair, with being closely involved and applying “a bit of pressure,” as GOP Sen. Rick Bennett said, to crack the toughest nut: the Senate maps.
There were nearly round-the-clock negotiations over the final weekend; Alexander mentioned an e-mail sent by Senate President Troy Jackson at 2:08 a.m.
He also recalled the bitter 1993 redistricting fight as something to avoid, when an SJC that had just cleared the way for legislative terms limits also drew the maps – pleasing almost no one, Alexander said.
The Senate maps could present some interesting electoral shifts, with one new district – comprising parts of York and Oxford counties – where there’s no incumbent.
Bennett said the new districts, through arduous compromise, may be more competitive than the current map. “And that’s the way it should be,” he said. “Politicians should have to earn their votes.”
The final negotiating point may have been the current District 5, where Sen. Jim Dill, D-Old Town, is term-limited and fellow Democrat Mike Tipping, communications director for the Maine People’s Alliance, is the first declared candidate.
The Republican proposal would have split Orono and Old Town, reliably Democratic towns, but in the final version, the two, plus Veazie, remain together, an outcome Tipping said keeps those Penobscot River communities together.
The GOP map also had the town of Bradley joining District 5, raising the possibility of another Senate candidacy from former Rep. Lawrence Lockman. Instead, Lockman, who lost narrowly to fellow Republican Kim Rosen in a District 8 primary in 2020, would have to run there, for a now-open seat.
The House maps, approved previously, also had a last-minute shift, with Belmont and Islesboro, and Sullivan and Cherryfield swapping places in new districts. David Emery, the former congressman, and redistricting guru, said Islesboro will be reunited with Lincolnville, where the ferry docks, while Sullivan rejoins adjacent Hancock County towns.
Not all such campaigns work; Penobscot residents tried but failed to realign their town with Blue Hill, to the east side of that peninsula, rather than Castine, to the west.
Most of the redistricting heat and punditry focused on congressional districts, with the battleground in Kennebec County, which since the 2000 census has been divided between the state’s two districts. In previous rounds, Waldo County gradually moved from the 1st District to the 2nd District as the population of northern Maine continues to shrink while southern Maine grows.
The ferment didn’t surprise Tardy, who said “a lot of attention and money” was spent nationally on redistricting fights, as the nearly evenly divided House caucuses in Washington fight for dominance.
In Maine, about 23,000 residents had to be shifted to the 2nd District, with Republicans focused on moving Augusta, while Democrats produced a map moving both the capital and Waterville, with its large Democratic plurality. That would benefit incumbent Rep. Jared Golden, who faces a challenge next year from former Rep. Bruce Poliquin, the Republican Golden ousted in 2018.
The two cities, the largest population centers, together represent far more people than needed, and Democrats ultimately backed down. But the consensus map may still accomplish the same end by different means.
The six municipalities besides Augusta moving into the 2nd District include Hallowell, Readfield, and Winthrop, where Democrats have a significant edge. Meanwhile, the six towns moving to the 1st District, including West Gardiner, Albion, and Litchfield, are predominantly Republican.
The Kennebec map is also more contiguous, avoiding the gerrymander-like sweep around the southern and western edges of the county that was needed after the 2010 census to keep both Augusta and Waterville in the 1st District; Waterville had been moved back by the Supreme Court in 2011 after the parties failed to agree.
Overall, the shifting population figures stand to benefit Democrats, especially in York County, where the once Republican House delegation now features 13 Democrats and nine Republicans. Cumberland County is already approaching all-Democratic status, with only Gray, Windham, and Standish electing Republicans.
But it may not be that simple, said Matt Moonen, a Democratic commissioner who finished four House terms from Portland last year.
“There’s a ripple effect around the state from redrawing smaller districts in southern Maine,” he said. “It’s really difficult to predict what that might mean in the rest of the state.”
In the Portland area, lines are relatively stable, both for House and Senate, because the population grew roughly in proportion to the state averages.
Fast-growing Scarborough, however, will be divided into three different Senate districts, while Yarmouth will also be split.
Occasionally, towns get put back together. While Kennebec County was a major source of contention for Congress, with a dozen towns marching back and forth, its legislative districts are stable; one town, Monmouth, that was previously split will now form a district with Litchfield.
Douglas Rooks has been a Maine editor, commentator, reporter, and author since 1984. His latest book is “First Franco: Albert Beliveau in Law, Politics and Love.” Visit douglasrooks.weebly.com/#/ or e-mail [email protected].