Whatever the end results of the 2011 redistricting process may be, it kicked off Friday with a spirit of bipartisan cooperation among the eight lawmakers on the committee.
The U.S. Constitution requires all states to reassess their congressional districts once a decade following the release of census results. But unlike many other states, Connecticut’s constitution requires the committee to have four members from both major parties.
“What strikes me about the process in Connecticut is it’s truly bipartisan,” Senate President Don Williams said. He joked that none of the committee members were likely to pack their bags and hold up in a New York motel because they don’t agree with the results of the process.
Friday’s meeting was largely organizational. The committee tapped non-partisan staff members of the Office of Legislative Research and information technology staffers for a few preliminary assignments.
Everyone on the committee seemed to agree that public input would be crucial to the process. In addition to plans to hold at least one public hearing in each of the state’s five congressional districts, they asked the staff members to put together a proposal on how to maximize public access to information regarding the redistricting process.
Williams said that ten years ago, during the last reapportionment process, there was a computer terminal at the capitol that members of the public could use to access relevant information. But technology has changed dramatically since then, he said.
In that vein the committee commissioned a website where the public should be able to access as much data as possible on the process, he said. Williams joked the website could also be used as a revenue generator.
“You know, if we had a Reapportionment Committee store page, we could have t-shirts and mugs, the proceeds of which could defray the state’s deficit,” he said.
Lawmakers on the committee said they publicize their email addresses to encourage public commentary on the process and a phone line, 860-240-1441, is being designated to help address their questions and concerns.
The process is just beginning but many of those concerns will likely involve the prospect of reducing the number of legislators in the General Assembly. Currently there are 187 members, 151 in the House and 36 in the Senate.
But Connecticut’s constitution dictates a range for the number of lawmakers in each. Senate membership can range between 30 and 50 members, while there can be anywhere between 125 and 225 in the House. A constitutional amendment is required to change the membership outside of that range.
On Friday lawmakers said it was too early in the game to begin speculating whether that would come to pass.
House Minority Leader Larry Cafero said it is one of the issues he is hoping to get input from the public on. Cafero noted there will be a certain amount of public education in the process. Many people probably aren’t aware of the rules on the ranges of legislators in the assembly, he said.
“But is it a possibility? Absolutely,” he said.
Cafero said he’s not sure yet how he feels personally about that prospect. On a political level he said it’s tough to have to tell a colleague planning to run for reelection that the position will no longer be there.
“But listen, this process is bigger than any of us individually and, frankly, all of us elected officials collectively. This is the people’s process. That’s what we’re waiting to hear,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy stopped short of taking a position on the subject.
“I’m going back to my old answer—if I got to choose who got to serve, I would do it in a minute,” he said.
When asked for a serious answer, the governor said he has days when he thinks there are too many legislators and days where he thinks there’s just enough. He would be opposed, however, to amending the constitution to change the number, he said.
The Reapportionment Committee is scheduled to meet again on Monday, May 16.