Special master recommends tweaks to Connecticut congressional map

The 5th District “lobster claw” survives as the special master recommended minimal changes to Connecticut’s congressional map, as directed by the Supreme Court. (Special Master Nathaniel Persily)

A Connecticut congressional map recommended Tuesday by a court-appointed special master makes minimal changes in the racial, political and geographic features of districts that have produced only Democratic victories since 2008.

The map drawn by Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford political scientist and law professor, was not unexpected, given the state Supreme Court’s directive that he make only the changes necessary to equalize the population of the five districts.

“The Special Master’s Plan complies with the applicable provisions of federal law and the additional requirements as ordered by this Court,” Persily wrote. “It moves the minimum number of people necessary in order to achieve population equality. It does so while also not splitting or moving any additional towns.”

If the revisions are adopted by the court, the political balance of power would seem to be little changed, with the 1st, 3rd and 4th districts being solidly Democratic and the 2nd and 5th leaning Democratic but competitive.

House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, co-chair of the Reapportionment Commission, said that the new lines did nothing to weaken the bases of the Democratic incumbents in the most competitive districts, U.S. Reps. Joe Courtney of the 2nd and Jahana Hayes of the 5th. One measure of their competitiveness: Republicans carried both districts in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

The court will hold a public hearing on the map on Jan. 27. Persily’s report and other maps highlighting the changes can be read here.

The court assumed control over congressional reapportionment once the legislature’s bipartisan Reapportionment Commission missed a constitutional deadline of Nov. 30 and then deadlocked when given an extension to Dec. 21.

The proposed new map is slightly more compact than the existing one, but the notorious “lobster claw” from the 5th into the 1st survives.

The claw is the result of a bipartisan gerrymander 20 years ago when Connecticut lost one of its six seats and the map was drawn to meet the political needs of two incumbents placed in the redrawn 5th District: Democrat James Maloney of Danbury and Republican Nancy Johnson of New Britain.

Republicans won three of the five seats in 2002 and 2004, one in 2006 and none in the years since.

The congressional map drawn after the 2000 Census was the last one on which a legislative Reapportionment Commission could agree. Ten years later, the commission deadlocked, and Persily was hired by the court to make only minimal revisions necessary to equalize the districts — the same charge given him now.

House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, a commission member, expressed frustration at the commission once again yielding responsibility to a court unwilling to direct a more ambitious overhaul.

“I wish that the commission could have drawn a map that would have taken other factors into consideration,” Candelora said. “We’re not better off having a special master draw it regardless of what the political outcomes may be after these races.”

Republicans had pressed the court to be more ambitious and order Persily to make geographic compactness a criteria. The GOP urged reuniting Torrington, now split between the 5th and 1st, and placing all of it the 5th, bringing it more Republican voters.

“The decision on whether or how to unite Torrington has significant ripple effects throughout the rest of the plan,” Persily wrote. “As also became quite clear in the back-and-forth in the briefs and testimony, the parties believe the decision in Torrington – whether to unite and if so, where to place it – has significant electoral implications.”

The other changes rippled to three other divided communities: Glastonbury, Middletown and Shelton.

Persily said the questions of whether to make the districts more compact or more competitive were “perfectly legitimate considerations” for the legislature and its Reapportionment Commission.

“However, the Court expressly prohibited the Special Master from consideration of political consequences or even evaluation of political data,” Persily wrote. “Moreover, from the testimony received, it became clear that the parties disagree as to where Torrington ‘belongs’ and that deciding one way or the other would require appeal to some principle not present in the Court’s order.”

The final plans of the Republicans and Democrats were not dissimilar, with the differences focused mainly on the fate of Torrington, split between the 1st and 5th, and Glastonbury, split between the 1st and 2nd. But the Republican version would have moved about 125,000 from one district to another, while the versions offered by the special master affected 87,000, similar to the Democratic plan.

Last week, Persily gave the legislative commission one last chance to come up with a plan. The commission took no action.

To be equal, each district needed a population of 721,189.

The 2020 Census found that growth in Fairfield County required the 4th and, to a lesser degree the 5th, to lose population, while the already sprawling 2nd of eastern Connecticut needed to pick up 21,288 people. Persily moved more of Glastonbury from the 1st to the 2nd.

The revised 1st would move more of divided Middletown from the 3rd represented by Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro into the 1st represented by Rep. John B. Larson. With the gain of Shelton voters and loss of Middletown’s, DeLauro’s district appears to become slightly less Democratic.

The 4th District represented by Rep. Jim Himes was the most overpopulated with a surplus of 25,627. Under Persily’s plan, half of Shelton would move from the 4th to the 3rd. The last district to be held by a Republican, the 4th now rivals the 1st as the most Democratic congressional seat in Connecticut.


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