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Redistricting plan for state congressional districts favors status quo

Published 6:16 pm, Saturday, January 14, 2012
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The political science professor assigned to end the partisan stalemate over redrawing Connecticut's congressional districts Friday aims to preserve most of the status quo.

Columbia University Professor Nathaniel Persily's draft plan heads to the state Supreme Court, whose judges assigned him to the project and are expected to bless his proposal.

Republicans, who sought more extreme changes to the state's five districts than did Democrats, complained Persily's plan would continue the other party's domination.

"It's working for them," said state House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk. "Twenty-five congressional elections over the last 10 years since we've had the (current) plan, and they've won 18 ... Now they have four incumbents and an open seat with state Speaker of the House (Chris Donovan) running in the 5th District. They did not want it to change."

Lower Fairfield County's 4th District and Danbury's 5th would experience extremely modest alterations, with some Shelton residents shifted into the former and some Torrington residents into the latter.

The redistricting process was triggered by population changes reported in the 2010 U.S. census.

Ideally, a bipartisan committee of state legislators would have arrived at a design. But that effort fell apart late last year.

Republicans like Cafero complained the 2001 map, which cut one congressional seat, was a concession to protect two incumbent members of Congress. They said their proposal would have undone Democrats' "gerrymandering."

The the process then moved to the state Supreme Court, which designated Persily as its special master .

In his report, Persily wrote, "The Republican proposal shifts more population, land, and towns than is reasonably necessary to comply with one person, one vote."

Persily chose a "slightly more compact plan" than Democrats sought, "which moves fewer people but retains a comparable level of respect for town lines."

Persily moved 8,079 Shelton residents into the 4th District -- represented by U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Greenwich -- from the 3rd.

And he said the 5th District -- home to U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy -- "required the least alternation." Persily recommended adjusting boundaries in Torrington to add 524 people.

Cafero complained the results of Persily's work, which included a Jan. 9 hearing, were foretold by a Supreme Court that instructed the scholar to make as few changes as possible. Cafero said Persily's expertise was wasted.

Democrats Friday accepted their victory with a very brief joint statement from State Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn; Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven; and House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden.

Persily's "proposed map appears to address the minimal changes that the recent court order required," they wrote.

Donovan recused himself in early December from his role in the redistricting process after months of criticism that his involvement was a conflict with his congressional campaign.

Cafero said the GOP is likely to make one last argument to the Supreme Court to reconsider, but expects the judges will quickly adopt Persily's recommendations.

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