(Updated 1:14 p.m.) House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero thinks Gov. Dannel P. Malloy overstepped his authority when he filed an appearance on the redistricting petition currently before the Supreme Court.
Cafero called the move “disturbing” and said it creates the appearance of partisan politics and “undue influence” on a court proceeding. He called on the governor Thursday to withdraw the appearance.
“This is a process that excluded the governor,” Cafero said. “As the defacto leader of the Democratic party, who has the power to appoint Supreme Court justices, it’s completely inappropriate.”
In addition to nominating the justices, the governor has the power to appoint the nine-member Reapportionment Commission under the state Constitution, but Cafero said that’s where his power ends.
Andrew McDonald, Malloy’s chief legal counsel, said Wednesday that an appearance was filed by the governor because “this is uncharted legal territory and the governor wants to ensure Connecticut residents are adequately represented.”
“Rep. Cafero is simply mistaken,” McDonald said of the accusations. “Connecticut’s constitution specifically provides that once the commission Rep. Cafero co-chaired failed to fulfill its obligations, ‘any registered voter’ could participate in the Supreme Court proceedings.”
“The Governor had urged the members of the commission to get this job done. Now that it is in the Supreme Court, he intends to advocate for a redistricting plan that is fair to all of Connecticut’s citizens and is accomplished within the timelines set forth in the constitution. We will not be withdrawing from the case,” McDonald said in a statement Thursday.
Asked what the governor’s concerns were McDonald said there’s a concern that there may be an effort to undermine the “communities of interest” in the proceedings.
“Communities of interest” is just one of the terms of art applied by the commission in determining how district lines are drawn. It can be taken to mean anything from ethnic groups to those with shared economic interests to users of common infrastructure to those in the same media market.
McDonald said there were several proposals advanced during the process that divided geographic and racial communities of interest with profound importance.
Parsing McDonald’s words, Cafero said he’s referring to the Republican maps when he talks about his concerns regarding “communities of interest.“
But McDonald said the governor’s court appearance is not an endorsement of the maps put forth during the commission process since it’s unclear the court will even pay attention to what has been done before the matter was handed over to it.
“In many ways the court is writing on a blank slate,” he said.
But Cafero said if the governor is concerned about “communities of interest” then he’s “opposing our maps and that’s just wrong.”
Republicans tried to keep partisan politics out of the whole process and didn’t have a conversation with one candidate about its maps, Cafero said alluding to the fact that House Speaker Chris Donovan’s chief of staff is named in one of the other court appearances.
Donovan, who resigned from the Reapportionment Commission before discussion of the congressional maps began, is running for the Democratic nomination in the 5th congressional district. Mildred Torres Ferguson, Donovan’s legislative chief of staff, has signed onto an appearance with other advocates from Meriden, New Britain, Norwalk, and Bridgeport.
The 5th district is the same one Republicans attempted to reconfigure to make it more competitive for a GOP candidate. In its last proposal Republicans removed New Britain from the 5th district and put Bridgeport back into the 4th district—a move that was decried by minority communities before the Dec. 21 deadline.
Republicans argued that putting New Britain in the 1st instead of the 5th eliminated the unusual borders required in 2001 in order to create a level playing field for two incumbents to compete against each other when a congressional district was eliminated.
Last week representatives of the minority community said moving New Britain out of the 5th district was unacceptable.
Meriden Councilwoman Hilda Santiago 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.
Cafero argued that New Britain shares more with Hartford than it does with Danbury. In fact, a 9.6 mile busway is about to connect the two cities, he said.
Democrats dismissed the Republican maps calling them radical.
Democrats proposed minimal changes to the five districts, but accounted for the 15,000 increase in population in the 2nd congressional district by shifting it from east to west. They argue the current maps are fair because Republicans won three of five seats in 2002 and 2004.
In addition to Malloy several other organizations, representing minority communities in Meriden, New Britain, Norwalk, and Bridgeport have filed appearances with the court.
The court will hear oral arguments on the appointment of a special master tomorrow at 1 p.m.