(Updated 3:48 p.m.) With the deadline to redraw Connecticut’s five congressional districts looming, a group of advocates from the southwestern part of the state came to the Capitol to lobby against the Republican proposal to move Bridgeport out of the 4th Congressional District.
Advocates from Democracy for America and Moveon.org said Bridgeport has been in the 4th Congressional District for 200 years and shouldn’t be moved.
Tiffany Mellers of Bridgeport and Moveon.org said moving Bridgeport out of the district represents a “step back for all minority voices.” Currently minorities comprise one-third of the population in the 4th and moving Bridgeport to the 3rd Congressional District would lower it to one-quarter, which isn’t enough for minority voices in that district to count, Mellers said.
Currently, “Republicans and Democrats need to compete for the minority vote to win,” she said.
John Hartwell of Westport and Democracy for America said the 4th district over the past few decades has been represented by the late Stewart McKinney and former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, both Republicans.
“It’s a competitive district and we’d like to keep it that way,” Hartwell said.
He said there’s no need for there to be a “radical transformation.”
Terry Masters of Stratford, which is in the 3rd Congressional District, said the move amounts to “voter suppression.”
Republicans don’t see it that way.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero has said that by putting Bridgeport and New Haven into the 3th District, the Republican map honored a legal obligation to try to create a minority influenced district.
“It will be the first minority influenced district in the state of Connecticut and if you were at the public hearing as we all were, you heard over and over again, representatives of the minority community in this state saying ‘we deserve to have as many minority influenced or as minority majority districts as possible,’” he said.
Cafero said the two organizations are both clearly left-leaning and support the district’s Democratic incumbent Jim Himes. He said the idea that Republicans on the commission are trying to create districts where Republican candidates have a better shot at winning shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“Duh. You know, I know that. Of course, that’s part of the things we have to do,” he said.
He said the advocates do not seem to be bothered by the fact that it is unlikely a Republic will ever be elected in either the 1st or 3rd Congressional District. While the Republicans’ proposal made the 4th district more favorable for Republicans, Cafero said by their count Democrats still had the upper hand in the district.
“It gave Democrats less of an advantage, though they still had one, in the 4th,” he said.
Democrats on the commission tend to agree with the advocates that it would silence the minority vote.
The state Supreme Court has given the nine-member Reapportionment Commission until Wednesday to complete the maps. If they fail to meet the deadline the Supreme Court will need to finish the job.
“I would be shocked if judges, who might be called upon to redraw these lines, would move Bridgeport from the 4th Congressional District,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday. “I would honestly be shocked by such a move.”
The population in the U.S. Census shows Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional District grew by 15,000 people. Those 15,000 people need to be moved to other districts to reach the mandated 714,819 residents per Congressional District.
Malloy said the commission can divide those 15,000 people two ways, three ways, or shift them all into a single district. He said it‘s pretty “transparent“ what the Republicans are trying to do.
“I think they‘re trying to change the district to make it easier for Republicans to get elected,” Malloy said.
Cafero said redistricting was one area of government where the governor had absolutely no say. He said Malloy should focus on his own responsibilities and let the commission focus on redistricting.
“It’s my understanding that he’s got a lot on his plate right with all the fraud going on. So I would hope he would focus on those things,” he said, referencing the ongoing investigation into allegations that state employees defrauded the food stamp program.
The discussions between the four Democrats and four Republicans on the Reapportionment Commission are ongoing, and a second set of maps has been exchanged, however, sources say they’re still stuck on the larger concept of moving Bridgeport out of the 4th and into the 3rd. It may be up to the ninth tie breaking member, former state Auditor Kevin Johnston, to decide what happens. The commission needs five votes in order to approve the maps.
Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said Monday that they’re still talking, but no progress has been made.
Johnston said the commission doesn’t have anything it can share yet.
Connecticut’s Congressional delegation has asked the commission to keep the districts as they’re currently constructed in tact, which is largely what the Democratic map proposes to do.
The commission was able to reach a deal on Nov. 30 on how to redraw the General Assembly’s House and Senate districts, but needed to ask the Supreme Court for an extension to get the congressional maps finished. The commission left the congressional maps until the bitter end of their deliberations last month and the Supreme Court granted them an extension which expires at midnight Wednesday, Dec. 21.