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New Census Means New Voting Maps

Christopher Keating

March 10, 2011

The town of Windsor is a bit of an anomaly in the state political arena.

The small community of about 30,000 residents has three state legislators in the House of Representatives none of whom lives in Windsor.

Town leaders say it makes no sense to slice and dice the community into little pieces, and now they will try to persuade legislators to correct it. With the release of new numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau on Wednesday, the state now begins the process of redrawing district lines and reshaping the Congressional, state Senate, and state House districts.

The 2012 elections might seem far away, but the new Census numbers will have a direct impact on those races.

The state legislature has formed a special, eight-member committee to redraw district lines for the upcoming races. The redrawing of the lines can ensure that the districts become stronger either for Democrats or Republicans.

Cities like Hartford and Bridgeport have multiple legislators, but they also have populations greater than 100,000. But small communities like Windsor rarely have three lawmakers.

Canty said that based on the way the district lines are drawn, it is very difficult for a resident of Windsor to represent the town. "We're shut out,'' he said.

State Rep. Peggy Sayers of Windsor Locks represents a piece of Windsor, as does Rep. David Baram of Bloomfield. Rep. Elaine O'Brien of Suffield also has a slice of Windsor in the 61st District. All three are Democrats.

"We're always outnumbered,'' said Canty. "That was intentional. In the 1980 redistricting, there was a fight between Bill O'Neill and our state representative, John Pier, who supported Ernie Abate'' the House Speaker who wanted to run for governor against O'Neill.

That battle led to "essentially cutting John Pier out of any political future,'' Canty said. "We're still paying the price 30 years later. If you talk to anyone, they say: 'That's not right.' ''

He added, "It's just not fair, and it's against what our state constitution is all about.''

That situation could change when the eight-member, bipartisan Reapportionment Committee starts meeting soon, leading to public hearings in the coming months in which officials from Windsor and other towns could testify. By Sept. 15, the committee is expected to have three new plans for the Congressional, state Senate, and state House seats. If the committee cannot receive majority support from five of the eight members, then the process would move into a second phase by adding a ninth committee member.

That ninth member could break any ties, and the group would be expected to reach a resolution by Nov. 30.

If the committee is still deadlocked, the redistricting plans would go to the Connecticut Supreme Court, which would be required to settle the issue and establish new boundary lines by Feb. 15, 2012.

The eight-member committee includes some of the top leaders of the legislature, including Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, House Speaker Chris Donovan, House Republican leader Larry Cafero, and Senate Republican leader John McKinney. The members also include Rep. Sandy Nafis, a Democrat, and Sen. Leonard Fasano and Rep. Arthur O'Neill, both Republicans. That's four Democrats, four Republicans.

Donovan said he could not comment on Windsor's situation, saying he had not yet studied the numbers that had been released only hours earlier on Wednesday. The overriding goal, he said, is to ensure that each legislator represents an equal number of residents. Each House member currently represents about 22,000 residents.

"That's the reason you do it,'' Donovan said of equalizing the districts. "It's set up to be a bipartisan solution.''

The new numbers show that all of the state's major cities grew in population over the past 10 years. Hartford was up by 2.6 percent, Waterbury by 2.9 percent, and Bridgeport by 3.4 percent. Further up the scale, Stamford's population went up by 4.7 percent since the 2000 Census, while New Haven's was up by 5 percent as additional housing units were constructed downtown.

"It's literally all over the map,'' Donovan said of the various communities.

The future, though, is uncertain, and even Windsor could remain the way it is now.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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