Population in Connecticut shifted south and west during the last decade, and the new district map for the state House of Representatives, approved Thursday by the Reapportionment Commission, reflects that change. But the reapportionment process is one controlled by the legislature, which means that the new map is designed to protect incumbents more than anything else.
The most obvious difference between the 2011 and 2021 maps is the relocation of the 42nd district from southeastern to southwestern Connecticut. The 42nd currently consists of Preston, most of Ledyard, and a piece of Montville, but under the new map it would now represent all of Wilton and pieces of Ridgefield and New Canaan. This district is represented by the retiring Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, which will give voters of the new 42nd a fresh start in 2022. The old 42nd will be absorbed by the 43rd, represented by Rep. Greg Howard, R-North Stonington, and the 45th, represented by Rep. Brian Lanoue, R-Griswold.
The new 42nd is in contested territory for the legislature. Fairfield County has trended increasingly Democratic over the past decade, and all three towns in the new district voted for Joe Biden in 2020 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. Democrats in legislative races have also been making gains in recent years; the 111th and 143rd House districts, which currently represent large pieces of the new 42nd’s territory, both flipped to the Democrats in 2020. However, this is still one of the more Republican places in lower Fairfield County to plunk down a new district, and if the political winds continue shifting towards the GOP this seat may be one they can hold without too much trouble.
Aside from that, there are very few changes on the map that could immediately result in a legislator being in trouble. That’s by design. House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said during a press call on Thursday that the redistricting panel tried to avoid disrupting incumbent legislators.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be any disruption at all, of course. One clear trouble spot for House Democrats is the 48th district in eastern Connecticut, currently represented by Rep. Brian Smith, D-Colchester. Smith kept his seat in 2020 by about 900 votes, thanks mostly to large margins in parts of Mansfield and Windham. Both of those towns will disappear from his district for 2022, replaced by more rural and conservative towns like Franklin and Bozrah.
Another seat Democrats may have trouble holding onto is the 57th district in East Windsor and Ellington, currently represented by Rep. Jaime Foster, D-East Windsor. The district will lose a slice of the Scantic and Broad Brook sections of East Windsor to the 59th, which is mainly an Enfield district represented by Republican Carol Hall. This could be trouble for Foster, who won the district thanks to votes from East Windsor. The 57th will pick up a narrow piece of Vernon, but whether that’s enough to make up for the losses in East Windsor remains to be seen.
There are some changes on the map resulting from a new law banning so-called prison gerrymandering in Connecticut, which counted inmates in prisons as residents of the town where the prison was located instead of their previous addresses. This means that suburban and rural towns with prisons, such as Enfield, Somers, Suffield, Cheshire, East Lyme, Brooklyn, and Montville, will now be in geographically larger districts. For instance, the 52nd district, home to large state prisons and represented by Rep. Kurt Vail, R-Stafford, has now expanded from just Stafford and Somers to include the towns of Union and part of Woodstock. That may not make too much of a difference when it comes to party control, but these towns will find themselves with a bit less clout in the next legislature.
There’s also some weirdness; the 5th District, which is represented by Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford, currently consists of the North End of Hartford and the southern, more urban sections of Windsor. But, in order to meet population requirements, it now includes a tiny prong of more rural and suburban South Windsor.
But overall, don’t expect too much to change in the legislature based on just the map.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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