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Process left our "Texas District" intact

We know someone who lived in Barkhamsted, up in the northwest hills, for many years and voted in the Sixth Congressional District until the 2000 Census determined Connecticut no longer had enough people to be allowed six seats in Congress.

The six districts were reconfigured into five, including a grotesquely shaped Fifth District designed to justify having Jim Maloney and Nancy Johnson, the surviving Fifth and Sixth District Congressmen, run against each other in 2002.

Barkhamsted expected to be part of that district but it and a few other towns from the old Sixth District ended up in the First District with Hartford and its suburbs.

And so, as a voter newly transplanted in the First District, our friend recalls going to a Barkhamsted Democratic Town Committee picnic one Sunday to meet his new congressman, John Larson of the East Hartford Larsons. The affable congressman confided to the crowd his next stop that afternoon was in Colebrook and he wondered if anyone knew how to get there. Our friend said the congressman was probably joking.

That was 10 years ago. Since then, our man moved to Simsbury, which should be seemingly in the heart of congressman Larson's First District, except it isn't. Simsbury is in the First District geographically, but not politically, as the serpentine Fifth twists to engulf Simsbury. So our friend found himself in the Fifth District, of all places, where he expected to be when he lived in northwestern Connecticut. But he had to move south and east to a Hartford suburb to get there.

He isn't unhappy about being in the Fifth District because it's far more interesting than the politically disproportioned First, which has elected nothing but Democratic congressmen since 1956. For those who like real elections, the Fifth is the place to be, especially this year, with the incumbent, Chris Murphy running for the Senate and leaving his seat open.

Sadly, the Fifth District also remains an embarrassing monument to the art of gerrymandering and far from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's eloquent wish for districts in keeping with "traditional redistricting principles, including contiguity and respect for political subdivisions, natural geography and communities of interest."

Its painfully formed shape with large claws extending into adjoining districts may have been appropriate and fair to determine whether Republican Johnson or Democrat Maloney would stay in office after the state lost a congressman. Now, it makes Connecticut look like Texas.

Redistricting is in the hands of eight legislators, four from each party, and is thereby doomed from the start. When the eight can't come to an agreement, a tiebreaker is added and when it's someone of the stature and wisdom of the late former House Speaker Nelson Brown, it can work. But there are few Nelson Browns available for statesman duty and this year, the nine member commission couldn't agree on the congressional districts either.

So the task went to the Supreme Court, which appointed a redistricting expert but ordered him to do nothing more than see to it that the districts were equal in population and otherwise abided by the law. This, he did, though, as House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero noted, the job could have been done by a clerk with a calculator.

Redistricting failed us in 2012 and we'll be living with these districts for at least another decade. Being thankful for small favors, we were happy to see the Second District, consisting of roughly the eastern half of Connecticut, remain relatively unchanged, keeping it one of the state's most politically competitive districts.

But as for our friend, he has no plans to move from Simsbury, figuring he can just wait and let the districts come to him.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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