Redistricting process aims to keep communities together
NORTHWEST CORNER — With testimony recently completed in Hartford for the 2011 redistricting process in Connecticut, residents of Litchfield County are hoping to see minimal upheaval as legislative members of the state Reapportionment Committee review population figures that have remained largely unchanged. The Reapportionment Committee redraws district boundaries every 10 years. Federal law requires districts to have nearly equal populations, using data from the 2010 Census, so that everyone’s vote has equal importance, e.g., “One person, one vote.”Aside from a couple of towns in which residents are asking for specific district changes, state legislators say the lack of huge population shifts in Northwest Corner towns should result in a smoother process than the last reapportionment in 2001, in which Connecticut lost a congressional district and many state House and Senate districts split up towns and made unusual patterns on district maps.Barkhamsted and Kent are the two towns that are making some noise this time around, with local activists seeking changes that they say will simplify the legislative process.In Barkhamsted, residents have been complaining for the past decade about the result of the 2001 redistricting process, which left the tiny town divided into two state House districts. State Rep. John Rigby (R-63), who grew up in Barkhamsted, said this week that he strongly supports bringing the town back together into one district, even if it means losing Barkhamsted from his district. “After the gerrymandering that happened after the last census, I think the idea is to not separate any other towns,” Rigby said. “I think the redistricting committee is working on a way to put Barkhamsted back together. I would love to continue to represent the town, but if the state gives the town to another district, I am happy to put Barkhamsted back together.”Rigby said a newly unified Barkhamsted would be included in either the 63rd District, which he serves, or the 62nd District, which includes Granby, East Granby and New Hartford, and is served by fellow Republican Bill Simanski. “Bill has to be contiguous to New Hartford,” Rigby noted. “So if Barkhamsted becomes a part of my district, they’ve got to figure out a way to connect the 62nd District with New Hartford.”Rigby said there are some ideas on the table to make that happen, but the solutions have not yet been discussed in an open forum. “The Reapportionment Committee is looking at the request and they’ve said they’ll do everything possible to accommodate Barkhamsted.”Across the county in Kent, state Rep. Roberta Willis (D-64) is hearing concerns from voters who want to join the 64th and leave the 108th District, which includes the towns of New Fairfield, New Milford and Sherman. Supporters of the move point out that Kent shares more commonalities with communities to the north than it does with towns farther south: The town belongs to the Region One school district and is a member of the Northwest Council of Governments, the Northwest Regional Planning Collaborative and the Northwest Connecticut Chamber of Commerce.While Willis has not said she opposes moving Kent into her district, she has expressed concern that, if Kent switches from the 108th to the 64th, she may be forced to give up another town, such as Torrington, which would cause a shuffling of smaller towns to make up for the population shift. “There might have to be a lot of small towns brought in to make up population if the 64th loses Torrington,” Willis said. “There’s a ripple effect.”Kent resident and former Democratic Selectman Richard Levy, who is lobbying for Kent’s inclusion in the 64th District, said he has received positive responses from a column he recently wrote for The Lakeville Journal, in which he noted that local Democrats have been pushing for the move from the 108th to the 64th, but Republicans appear to be opposing the move for partisan reasons. Levy was one of many Connecticut residents who testified at the Reapportionment Committee’s final hearings in Hartford last week. In his testimony, he noted that Kent has passed numerous zoning regulations that differentiate it from other 108th District towns while solidifying itself as an entry to the Litchfield Hills.“The job of redistricting is difficult and complicated,” Levy said. “I’m sure the intent of our founding fathers was to bring neighborhoods together and not be a political tool. While the statutes call for a relative equal number of residents in each district, there is nothing in the statutes that speaks to how many Republicans or Democrats should be included. Redistricting along political lines distorts the very diversity of our citizens.”For state Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-30), redistricting has the potential to cause some shakeups, simply because of the large number of towns he currently represents. The 30th Senatorial Distict currently includes all or portions of the towns of Brookfield, Canaan, Cornwall, Goshen, Kent, Litchfield, Morris, New Milford, North Canaan, Salisbury, Sharon, Torrington, Warren, Washington and Winchester.“I know redistricting is a highly political process, and we should expect the unexpected,” Roraback said. “It ought not to be about the individual who holds the position at one particular time. It ought to be about the community’s interest. As it stands now, two-thirds of Torrington voters are thrown in with Simsbury and Avon, which I think has less in common with Torrington than Litchfield and Goshen.”Roraback said Torrington “got the short end of the stick” during the last redistricting process by being broken up into two Senate districts, but he added that some people see having two senators representing the town as a blessing. “I’m pretty much resigned to letting the process play itself out,” the senator said. “I don’t expect dramatic changes in the Northwest Corner, and I’m happy with the district I represent. There’s always some drama associated with the process. I just don’t know what that drama will be.”At the national level, Litchfield County residents can only wonder what will happen to the 5th and 1st Congressional Districts, which were significantly redrawn in 2001 after Connecticut was reduced from six districts to five. No decisions have been announced regarding the two districts, but there has been speculation that some redrawing boundaries will occur. “A lot of people have different reasons for wanting different things,” Roraback said. “There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the 5th Congressional District and a lot of candidates live on the edge of the district.”The 2011 Reapportionment Committee members are Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams (Co-chair, D-Brooklyn), House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero (Co-chair, R-Norwalk), Senator Majority Leader Martin Looney (D-New Haven), Senate Minority Leader John McKinney (R-Fairfield), Sen. Leonard Fasano (R-North Haven), House Speaker Christopher Donovan (D-Meriden), Rep. Sandy Nafis (D-Newington), and Rep. Arthur O’Neill (R-Southbury). The committee is expected to continue its work through mid-September. Updates will be available online at www.cga.ct.gov/red2011/.