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Lawmakers reveal new state House district map

The General Assembly's Reapportionment Commission unanimously approved a new map for Connecticut’s state House districts on Thursday.

In southeastern Connecticut, the 42nd District state House seat held by Mike France, R-Ledyard, has been moved to Fairfield County. Ledyard now belongs to the 43rd state House district seat held by Greg Howard, R-Stonington, and the change created ripples throughout the region.

The first election with the new districts will be held in November 2022.

The bipartisan commission unveiled the new map Thursday afternoon and spoke about the process, which is facing tight deadlines and isn't subject to full General Assembly approval.

A bipartisan committee of legislators had been tasked with redrawing congressional and General Assembly districts by Sept. 15. That did not happen, since the federal government was delayed in releasing updated census data due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The task fell to the commission, composed of eight legislators who chose a ninth together this week. The commission has to make a new map by Nov. 30, and if it can't, the state Supreme Court steps in.

“We are still working on the Senate side on our maps, we hope to have that done over the next few days,”  said state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme. “I have not had the opportunity to look at the House maps, so my vote today is going to be because of the bipartisan communication from both sides of the House members."

He and Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford; House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford; state Rep. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton; House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford; House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford; Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff are on the commission. Many spoke before and after Thursday’s meeting to praise the bipartisan quality of Connecticut’s redistricting process. Ritter and others noted that in many other states, lines are redrawn by the party who won the most recent election.

Ritter said the commission is going to request an extension from the state Supreme Court “until Christmas” because “I think we could get to a deal if we had a couple extra weeks.”

State representatives and senators said a population shift away from eastern Connecticut and toward Fairfield County, which added a district as a result of the loss of the 42nd, informed the decision to transfer the seat that used to cover Ledyard, Preston and part of Montville to the other side of the state.

“Typically we look for areas where there was some population decline where it made sense to collapse a district,” Candelora said of the 42nd.

Plus, Candelora said, France is retiring after his current term, making the loss of the seat sting less for Republicans. France said he made the decision to show he’s serious about running for U.S. Congress against Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

Almost all of Ledyard is now in Howard’s district, but part of it is also in the 45th District, currently represented by Republican Brian Lanoue of Griswold. The new map also includes part of Montville in the 37th District, a seat held by Rep. Holly Cheeseman’s, R-East Lyme. Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton, who represents the 41st district, is picking up part of Stonington from Howard as a result of Howard's district taking in the majority of Ledyard. The 40th district, represented by Christine Conley, will now have the southern tip of New London and will no longer have part of Ledyard.

“Everything about redistricting is about population and we knew that about 28,000 people, with population changes and the prison gerrymandering bill, came out of the 2nd Congressional District, so that’s an entire House seat,” France said. “It does dramatically change the boundaries of almost every district of southeastern Connecticut. Now you have Ledyard, which used to be one representative, then had two, and now has three.”

The legislature passed prison gerrymandering reform this past legislative session, joining 11 other states in ending the practice of counting incarcerated people in the municipality where the prison is located even though they can’t vote and aren’t otherwise connected to the area.

Under the new measure, inmates now will be counted as residents of their last town of residence. In the previous system, incarcerated people were counted as residents of the town where they were imprisoned, effectively boosting the population of these towns when the census is conducted. Since representation in the General Assembly is based on population, this gave towns that have prisons a higher population count than they might otherwise have and, potentially, larger amounts of state funding.

Opponents of this practice have referred to it as “prison gerrymandering” and claim that it unfairly advantages rural areas. These small towns generally have more prisons than urban areas, despite the fact that most of the incarcerated people are from cities. Prisons, such as those in Montville and East Lyme, can generate vital economic activity for these towns but issues within prisons can often bleed over into the surrounding community and tax local resources.

The new map has Ledyard split between Lanoue, Howard and Kevin Ryan’s, D-Montville, 139th District seat. Ryan also picks up Bozrah in his district, meaning Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, has his district changed by the new map, as well. Dubitsky’s district new longer encompasses Hampton and now includes parts of Brooklyn and Plainfield.

“I’ve gone from two towns to three — not all of the towns, as you can see. And this is all assuming I run again, but the 43rd District’s got two-thirds of Ledyard now,” Howard said. “I’m glad to pick up a bunch of people in Ledyard, a lot of great folks up there. It’s a great town. I’m certainly disappointed to lose part of Stonington, the town I’ve been serving 20 years as a police officer, one as a state rep., and the town where I live, but I’ll always work hard for all of the people of this town.”

At Norwich City Hall in September, one of several public hearings held by the reapportionment committee — which preceded the commission — took place. Five people testified in front of about 30 attendees. At the time, Kimberly Blake, who spoke as part of the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut, argued redistricting “should be carried out by a committee of citizens who are not beholden to politicians in any way.”

Ritter and others said that people could certainly poke holes in Connecticut’s redistricting process, but he feels it’s solid.

“If people want to change it, have at it, but I don’t want to be a part of that change,” he said.

s.spinella@theday.com

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