House chamber (CTNewsJunkie photo)

House leaders on Connecticut’s redistricting panel have arrived at a tentative agreement and expect to meet Thursday to approve a map of House voting districts for the next decade, in the first of three maps due before Nov. 30. 

The Reapportionment Commission was rushing this week to meet its deadline to approve new maps for House, Senate, and congressional districts to reflect population changes recorded by the U.S. Census survey.

One of its members, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, said Wednesday that work on the House map was substantially completed. 

“I would say we’re done, but for some technical cleanup,” Candelora said. “So we would anticipate voting very soon on the House map.” 

That vote is expected to come Thursday among House members of the commission, leaving the Senate and Congressional maps outstanding. If lawmakers on the commission do not finish their work by the end of the month,  as was the case with 2011’s congressional map, the state Supreme Court takes a role in approving the new district lines.

Speaking generally about the new House map, Candelora said Fairfield County would gain a seat due to population growth there and the eastern region of the state would lose a seat as a result of population decline in some small towns. 

In drawing the lines, Candelora said the commission sought to consider public input, population shifts, and the demographics of communities, as well as avoid boxing incumbent elected officials out of their own districts. 

“It’s actually a very time consuming, tedious, and, I would say, anxiety-ridden process,” Candelora said. “There are so many moving parts.”

This year’s process was held up for months by the U.S. Census Bureau, which delayed releasing the necessary data. Despite the setbacks, the bipartisan panel has endeavored to avoid court involvement.

This week, the commission circled its deadline with a flurry of activity. During a Tuesday meeting, the group accepted the resignation of its recently-appointed 9th member, former legislator and state auditor Kevin Johnston. Johnston, a Democrat who also served as the panel’s 9th member in 2011, withdrew for personal health reasons. 

As a replacement, the group appointed John McKinney, a long serving former senator who led the chamber’s Republican caucus. McKinney also unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor in 2014, a nod that eventually went to Tom Foley. 

During Tuesday’s meeting Democrats and Republicans praised McKinney as even-tempered and fair. 

“He understands his role is to get us to get to a bipartisan agreement on all three plans and all three maps,” House Speaker Matt Ritter said. “I know it’s important to him and he’s a person who respects the institution the way we all do and I have no doubt that his word is valid.”

McKinney served as a member of the 2011 commission and on Wednesday said he saw his role now as a consensus builder among a bipartisan group of eight legislators, all of whom he had served with in the past. 

Former Senate Minority Leader John McKinney (CTNewsJunkie file photo)

“There are always difficult decisions,” McKinney said. “But all eight of these leaders are really good people and they’ve been around a while and so I don’t think they’re going to have any real trouble reaching an agreement.”

Lawmakers expect to finish their map for state Senate voting districts before the deadline. On Wednesday, Senate President Martin Looney said he was at the state Capitol for a meeting to discuss the Senate map.

“We’re quite close,” Looney said. “We’re not ready to have a vote on the Senate side yet but we’ve been meeting steadily and making substantial progress.”

However, as the panel begins to turn its attention to the congressional map with less than two weeks left, court involvement seems likely.  

“We recognize it may go to court and at that point I would hope the court would give us a little more time in December to complete that map and take a vote,” Candelora said. 

McKinney said he was confident the group would come to an agreement in time to vote on all three maps. Once their work is completed, he said everyone else could get to work “trying to read the tea leaves” to forecast their political impact. He advised against any hand-wringing. 

“Having been through it in the past, I can tell you that things don’t ever turn out the way you predict they will,” McKinney said. “You take your best guess. You do your best, you come to an agreement. It’s still going to come down to who’s running good candidates, whether it’s an open seat or an incumbent — those are much bigger factors in winning and losing races than redistricting.”