The Universal Notebook: Redistricting for dummies

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Maine was due for a congressional redistricting in 2013, but thanks to a pair of Republican operatives in Cape Elizabeth, we are now being treated to a court-ordered redistricting that has revealed the ridiculous lengths to which the GOP will go to gain an advantage.

William DeSena and Sandra Dunham, Republicans from Cape, filed a lawsuit asking for an early redistricting allegedly because the shift in Maine population revealed in the 2010 U.S. Census “diluted their votes.” With 668,515 residents in the 1st Congressional District and 659,846 in the 2nd Congressional District, DeSena and Dunham claimed to be concerned that their 1st District votes would not count as much as 2nd District votes.

Personally, I’d be amazed if either DeSena or Dunham could say that with a straight face. Really? You’re losing sleep because your vote has been devalued? You might just as well argue that because there are 654,000 women and only 620,000 men in Maine that you are being are under-represented as a man.

No, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what DeSena, Dunham, their lawyer Tim Woodcock, the merry olde Maine Heritage Policy Center, and the Maine Republican Party are interested in is not equity, fairness or justice; it’s screwing the Democrats. They must have been laughing up their sleeves when they sued the state of Maine to force the LePage administration to do something it was dying to do anyway.

“Oh, please, Brer Billy, don’t throw me in the briar patch.”

As a 1st District voter and Democrat, I could argue that the population difference between the districts actually makes our votes count more, not less. Rep. Chellie Pingree represents 8,669 more citizens than 2nd District Rep. Mike Michaud.

The task at hand now is to transfer 4,334 residents from the 1st District to the 2nd District in order to achieve the balance so ardently sought by the Grand Old Party. The Democrats initially proposed a very simple and sensible way to do this – just move the town of Vassalboro into the 2nd District. Neat.

The Republicans, however, have their own idea of neat. Back in 2003, they proposed a redistricting plan that would have divided the state vertically, such that Portland and Millinocket would have been in the same congressional district. Rep. Tom Allen would have then had to run against Rep. Mike Michaud. A pair of incumbent Democrats forced to run against one another. That’s the Republicans’ idea of neat.

This year, the GOP turned itself inside out to come up with a redistricting plan that would have moved 360,000 people to different districts, this time drawing their tortuous line such that Pingree, who lives in North Haven, would be in the 2nd District and have to run against Michaud. Pingree, however, owns property in Portland and could have continued to represent the 1st District, but it was a nice try.

No one with any sense of fair play or common sense could believe the Republicans’ cockamamie proposal. I swear I don’t understand why anyone who earns less than $250,000 supports them. But Republican Party Chairman Charles Webster defended the DeSena-Dunham cabal that set the screwball redistricting in motion.

”It’s not like there’s some scheme, with Republicans behind it, to do this,” he said.

It’s not? Well, yes, Charlie, it sure as heck is.

As in 2003, the Maine Supreme Court will no doubt have to step in to craft a redistricting plan following bad faith efforts of the court-ordered redistricting commission. It probably won’t make one iota of difference where the line gets drawn (yawn), but, then again, it could.

Maine is one of the states that splits its electoral votes depending on who wins in each district. So there is a far-fetched chance that the fate the nation could rest on where we draw the line in Maine.

Which begs the question: Why draw the line geographically? Frankly, I’m surprised the purely partisan Maine Republican Party hasn’t proposed making all 272,871 registered Republicans residents of the Second District and all 322,848 registered Democrats residents of the First District. That’s the only way a rabid Republican is going to beat the moderate Michaud.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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