(Updated 2:19 p.m.)The nine-member bipartisan Reapportionment Commission won’t finish redrawing the congressional maps before the court-ordered noon deadline, which means it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide.
Attorney General George Jepsen said his attorney’s have alerted the Supreme Court that the commission has reached an impasse and attorneys for both the Republicans and Democrats are expected to submit their briefs by 3 p.m. today.
It’s the first time in recent memory the Supreme Court will be asked to finish the task of drawing the five congressional districts before February 15th.
Republicans and Democratic legislative leaders who sit on the commission argued their case to through the media Wednesday afternoon with a series of press conferences.
The Republicans plastered a committee room with maps of the congressional districts dating back to 1911, long before the Voting Rights Act was passed, up until their last best offer to the Democrats Tuesday.
Having already blown its Nov. 30 deadline the Supreme Court granted the commission an extension with the hopes that the two sides would be able to work out their differences. After two weeks of closed-door the Republican map put Bridgeport back into the 4th Congressional District and moved New Britain out of the 5th Congressional District and into the 1st Congressional District.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said they tried to get rid of the “hook and the claw” present in the current map and moved New Britain to 1st Congressional District. When it was pointed out the move makes the 5th Congressional District more competitive for a Republican candidate Cafero agreed.
“That is probably correct,” he said.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney said the courts have been clear that districts can’t be drawn to favor a current candidate or one considering running.
House Speaker Chris Donovan, who resigned from the Reapportionment Commission on Nov. 30, is running for the Democratic nomination in the 5th Congressional District.
Republicans argued that New Britain shares a community of interest with Hartford more than it shares a community of interest with other towns in the 5th Congressional District.
However, the minority community including Meriden Councilwoman Hilda Santiago, disagrees. She said the minority population in New Britain shares common interests with the growing minority populations in Danbury and Waterbury in the 5th and putting it in the 1st would “diminish the minority” influence of New Britain.
Rep. Robert Sanchez, D-New Britain, called the move “unacceptable.”
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, reminded the media that neither side consulted the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus when drawing the maps.
The Republican’s first map which moved Bridgeport out of the 4th and put it into the 3rd was also unacceptable to the minority community, who came to the Capitol Monday to voice their concerns. Cafero said they met with the NAACP and heard those concerns which is why they decided to scrap that idea and move forward with another map.
House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, who replaced Donovan on the commission, said every map the Republicans showed the Democrats moved New Britain out of the 5th Congressional District.
“We responded and exchanged maps several times, so we negotiated in good faith, but that was the one thing they would not give up,” Sharkey said.
“There was no evidence in the public hearings or anywhere that this kind of radical change to redraw the political map of the state benefit the Republicans in the 4th and the 5th district was in any way something those communities wanted,” he added.
“New Britain for them was always the issue and we always responded with some type of alternative, some type of compromise. At the end it wasn’t enough,” Sharkey said.
Democrats did not respond by presenting Republicans with their own map after the Republicans’ last best offer on Tuesday.
Sen. President Donald Williams was adamant about maintaining the districts as close to the current structure as possible.
“No, we are not going to sign off on ripping Bridgeport out of the 4th district,“ he said. “No, we are not going to sign off on ripping 80,000 people in New Britain out of the 5th district, when in fact none of the 5th district needs to change.”
Sharkey said the last map they presented wasn’t much different than the ones already presented. He said they all involved moving the equivalent of a medium-sized town from the 2nd district into another district to account for the 15,000 person shift in population.
The various changes presented by the Democrats were all “incremental changes” to the original map.
It’s unclear exactly how the court will handle the matter. It could assign a special master and hand the maps back to legislators, or it could accept the maps already drawn and reconcile them, or it could start the process from scratch.