Nearly one year ago, CT News Junkie contributor Jason Paul suggested that state Democrats “lost” the decade’s redistricting process. In retrospect, Mr. Paul’s piece seems prophetic. Redistricting modestly strengthened the hand of state Republicans and helped them hold their margins in each chamber of the General Assembly.
State voters maintained the status quo in Hartford, returning a 22-14 Democratic majority to the State Senate and a 99-52 Democratic majority to the State House. In a year when the Republican Presidential nominee lost by 18 points in Connecticut and the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate lost by 12 points, maintaining the status quo was an accomplishment for Republicans.
As Mr. Paul predicted, redistricting played a significant role in the process. Since 1996, the GOP has lost ground in the State Senate, for example, in every Presidential cycle. The net no change in the partisan breakdown of the Senate is the best showing for Republicans in a Presidential year since 1992.
In the Bristol-based 31st Senate District currently held by Republican Jason Welch, redrawing the district to include Thomaston provided Sen. Welch’s entire 900-vote margin of victory.
The story is the same in the 16th Senate District. Republican Sen. Joe Markley won re-election by a little over 2,000 votes. Redistricting tweaked the district by moving Prospect into the 16th and shifting parts of Waterbury into Sen. Joan Hartley’s 15th District. Prospect alone produced a net margin of about 1,000 votes for Mr. Markley in 2012.
The surprisingly close battle for the 13th Senate District was mostly a testament to the hard work of Republican Len Suzio. After winning the seat in a low-participation special election, Mr. Suzio worked the district aggressively, championing several high-profile causes. Though the district’s party registration advantage for Democrats is overwhelming, Suzio lost by about 200 votes. Redistricting played a role here too, however. Changing the district to remove parts of Middletown, mostly Wesleyan students, took out about 1,300 Middletown voters. It is not hard to imagine that those voters could have turned a 200-vote loss into a 1,000 point blowout.
Though the results don’t fit into the narrative preferred by some observers, Connecticut voters mostly endorsed the status quo in the recent elections. They were helped along by the savvy efforts of Republicans during the line-drawing process and the unwitting assistance of state Democrats.
Perhaps these outcomes will spur efforts to reform the redistricting process based on principles as I’ve suggested previously in this space: keeping communities of interest together, creating more compact and geographically uniform districts, reduce voters’ confusion about who represents them by following existing political boundaries, not use political data, including incumbent addresses, for partisan reasons, and “nesting” house districts into senate districts.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com