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Where redistricting meets ethics

Does it bother you that a candidate for Congress has a role in changing the district in which he’s running? It’s happening in the 5th Congressional District. The candidate is House Speaker Christopher Donovan, who got himself a seat on the Reapportionment Committee that will redraw the lines of the five districts to reflect the population shifts in the 2010 census. This positions him nicely to make his district just a wee bit safer for congressional candidates like him, to pick a random example. And speaking of picking, before the voters pick Donovan, he will pick the voters, thereby reducing, however slightly, the inconvenience of an uncertain outcome. Nothing illegal, you understand, just a bit shabby.It would be nice, not to mention ethical, if Donovan removed himself from the Reapportionment Committee or if he prefers, he could withdraw his candidacy and leave the race to the other Democratic and Republican candidates. Some of them look pretty good and none of them brings Donovan’s baggage to the race.Donovan has long been known as the state employee unions’ number one legislator. A former union official, Donovan has always pandered to this constituency but he outdid himself during the still resonating battle over the budget.As speaker, Donovan blocked action in his House on a bill that would have ended blatant abuses in the way pensions are figured and bonuses are paid to state employees without regard for their performance or competence.Before Donovan killed the bill, the state Senate had voted by a bipartisan 30 to 6 to end the so-called longevity bonuses awarded to all employees for merely being on the job long enough. The bill also would have ended the practice of adding longevity pay and overtime to base salaries when figuring pensions. Eliminating these abuses would save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually, but Donovan opted to leave the embattled state employees something heartwarming and vote inducing to remember him by. He said the bill would remain on the house calendar but hoped delaying it would be an incentive for unions to accept the deal they had rejected. The employees, of course, already had a compelling incentive — their jobs. The 5th is one of the more competitive Congressional districts in a state that has adhered to the tradition of aligning Congressional districts so that election results are preordained for two Democrats and usually a Republican or two. (Democrats get the 1st and 3rd Districts while Republicans usually have custody of the 4th and sometimes the 2nd.) That changed in the recent past, when independents and some Republicans, disillusioned with the Bush war and other Republican excesses, helped sweep out all the Republican congressmen. But now, with Barack Obama in danger of being a one-term president, the Democrats on the Redistricting Committee will be looking for new advantages as they redraw the five districts. I’m a resident of the 5th District, so I take Donovan’s dual role as a fixer of district lines and candidate personally. We live in Simsbury, which borders the Democratic 1st District and shows some independence in its voting, so it might not be all that shocking if Donovan would like to move us into John Larson’s safe Democratic fiefdom in the 1st. Or maybe he’d prefer to have Farmington or Avon go there. After living in Barkhamsted and voting in the 6th District for many years, I was redistricted into the 1st after Connecticut lost a seat in the 2000 census. Then, when I moved to Simsbury, I was surprised to find myself, not in the 1st, with most of the Hartford suburbs, but in the faraway 5th, where Barkhamsted should be. So goes redistricting.Personally, I hope I’ll continue to vote in the 5th District, where I’ll at least have a choice in the congressional race. In the 1st, it’s always a contest between Larson and the guy who’s going to lose. Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at dahles@hotmail.com.

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