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Opinion

Date: 09/22/11

Protecting politicians not goal of redistricting

By Rep. Les Fossel

Reading Mike Tipping's Sept. 21 editorial about redistricting ("GOP redistricting shenanigans in Maine and Pennsylvania"), it is immediately apparent that the author is familiar with neither the purpose of reapportionment nor the process. As a member of the Reapportionment Commission, I believe it would be beneficial to your readers to set the record straight.

Tipping states, "Republicans have instead proposed moving 360,000 Mainers from one district to another" Let me be clear: No one is going to have to move once the lines of Maine's two congressional districts are redrawn.

Redistricting is a process that the U.S. Constitution requires states to complete every 10 years to reflect the most current U.S. Census figures. When it's done, there will simply be a new line on the map that separates Maine's two congressional districts. A fraction of Mainers will likely end up voting for candidates in a different district than the one they voted in before. This is the norm in any redistricting process.

Mr. Tipping also refers to the Republican plan as a "complicated scheme." It's actually just the opposite. The current congressional map features a jagged, seemingly random line, with the 1st District stretching from Kittery to Camden. The Republican proposal separates Maine into two compact districts. We believe that this will help combat the "two Maines" phenomenon by combining elements of the populous (and wealthier) south with the more rural (and less prosperous) north.

The 1st District right now could be considered a boutique district for the rich. It was clear at the public hearing that some residents of this rich suburban enclave have no desire to be associated with the farmers, loggers and other hard-working folks in the rural parts of the state, primarily in the 2nd District. We believe this attitude of elitism is offensive to many state residents. It's also worth noting that extremely partisan districts are the breeding ground for dysfunctional government, which we see all too often in Washington. The GOP plan hopes to knit the "two Maines" together in a coherent framework.

Maine's current redistricting process is the result of a federal court order to divide the populations of Maine's two congressional districts as evenly as possible. It also requires the districts to be as compact as possible, while recognizing the state's geographic and municipal boundaries. The Republican proposal achieves all of these criteria while reflecting the diversity of our population.

The court order does not require the Reapportionment Commission to protect the status quo or take congressional incumbents' political ambitions into account. The objective is to create districts that best serve the people of our state, not to cater to current officeholders. Yet the Democrats serving on the commission have made it clear that keeping Congresswoman Chellie Pingree in the 1st District is their primary goal in this process.

Designing districts to benefit a single politician is short-sighted, of course. Remember, 10 years ago John Baldacci and Tom Allen were our congressmen. Ten years from now, the odds are that the current incumbents will be gone.

Republicans have made every conceivable effort to reach out to Democrats during this process, only to be rejected time and again. After we presented them with our original proposal (which we plan to present at the special legislative session), the Democrats raised three objections. We then presented them with a second map that addressed all of their concerns. That still wasn't good enough. They added a fourth, previously unstated objection.

Instead of negotiating in good faith, their strategy appears to be constantly moving the goal posts in order to preserve the status quo. This kind of narrow, partisan focus is one reason the people of Maine chose to put Republicans in the majority in the Legislature after nearly 40 years of Democratic control.

In this current redistricting process, Maine has an opportunity to establish congressional boundaries that could be a model for the rest of the nation, instead of opting for gerrymandered boundaries seen in other states that are driven by partisan politics. We believe the Republican proposal achieves this.

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State Rep. Les Fossel (R-Alna) serves on the Health and Human Services Committee and is a member of the Reapportionment Commission