A Closer Look

New lines create divide in local politics

By Juliette Laaka | Feb 03, 2014
Photo by: file photo

Augusta — Independent Legislator Jeffrey Evangelos of Friendship said independents are marginalized by the redistricting process, and the 2014 configuration cost him three of the four towns he represents.

As mandated by the state constitution, Senate, House and Congressional political districts are redrawn every 10 years in line with the census to ensure equal representation. The new districts are drawn according to 2010 census data.

Evangelos contends redistricting is not solely about keeping populations even, but rather, partisan politics ensuring election outcomes favor the major parties.

In 2013, Senate and House districts were altered to maintain a one man, one vote strategy. Some local changes are minor, while others group new towns together and pit incumbent legislators against each other.

A bipartisan apportionment commission of seven Democrats, seven Republicans and one neutral chairman, along with consultants hired by the parties, negotiate and reconfigure districts. The districts were approved by the 126th Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage and are in place for the 2014 June primary and November election. Congressional districts were redrawn in 2011, and House and Senate districts in 2013.

Evangelos, elected in 2012 to represent District 49, Friendship, Cushing, Warren and Union, would run for reelection in 2014 to represent newly drafted District 91 — Waldoboro, Washington, Friendship and half of Union. If seeking another term, he would run against incumbent Republican Rep. Ellen Winchenbach of Waldoboro.

"I'm the only legislator that lost 7,000 of 8,800 my constituents, and three of my four towns," said Evangelos.

Evangelos said as he does not caucus with either party, his district was not protected.

"It's a sad state of affairs when the only way they can beat me is by gaming the system," he said.

There was no reason to carve the districts as they are now just to preserve the population, he said. Evangelos said Tea Party Republicans created a sweetheart district for former Legislator Wesley Richardson of Warren so he would run again. This House District, 95, covers Warren, half of Union, Appleton and Hope.

Richardson confirmed he is campaigning for the seat, and said he would have run again regardless of the redistricting. "I was very comfortable representing my previous district and know I can do it again," he said. Richardson had previously reached the four-term limit in 2012.

Funds, totaling $124,000 to pay for redistricting, were approved in 2010, said appointed Chairman of the Commission Michael Friedman.

Friedman, a Bangor attorney, said his role as a neutral party was to facilitate meetings between the parties and keep politics to a minimum. By state constitution, Friedman was appointed by the Speaker of the House, Democrat Mark W. Eves of North Berwick.

Friedman said the commission works to follow a one man, one vote rule. "Some people are upset by the lines and some are pleased," he said of the outcome. Friedman said it is not the commission who decides winners, it is the candidate and the campaign.

A change to the Maine Constitution would be required to add a representative for independent legislators, he said.

If lines shift, Friedman said it is designed to be the least problematic to voting. Friedman added the parties must agree on the maps, and the maps were crafted in seven meetings.

"Democrats are not going to let Republicans have a sweetheart district and Republicans aren't going to let Democrats have one," he said.

Republican consultant David Emery of St. George said in his 30 years of working with the commission, last year's apportionment was the easiest and most cooperative process. Emery commended Democratic consultant Greg Olson and the joint commission for their work. He explained his role as a consultant is to produce seats favorable to the Republican party.

Emery said it was the first time in 40 years the negotiations did not end up in the Maine Supreme Court. "We are very proud of that," he said.

Responding to Evangelos' claim, Emery said the independent legislator had already won a seat in a Republican district against a strong candidate. "He is equal to the task," he said.

Emery added other sitting legislators had their districts altered, losing and gaining towns. He explained the lines as a balloon, where it's pushed on one side, it bulges in another. Knox County's population also saw an increase, he said.

According to 2010 census data, there were 39,736 people living in Knox County, an increase of 118 citizens from 2000, when the population was recorded as 39,618 people.

Democratic Commission member Joan Welsh of Rockport said Democrats and Republicans met with each member of the House to discuss changes. Many sitting legislators wanted their districts to be left intact and relatively unchanged.

"We cannot keep everybody happy, but we negotiated the best we could," she said.

Both parties hired consultants to aid in the process. Welsh said sitting legislators do not have the time or experience to do the redistricting themselves, which is a time consuming and exacting process.

Mapping and formulating 151 House and 35 Senate districts requires help, she said.

The northern and southern districts were negotiated first, which left the Midcoast reapportionment last, and also the most difficult area for the parties to agree on, she said. Welsh said the Democrats conceded in the Midcoast, but added it was better the parties worked together rather than leaving the redistricting process to be sorted out by the court.

Welsh said the process is political, with both parties wanting their incumbents to have a majority of the party in their districts, but said each side abide by the same requirements. The two largest requirements include ensuring equal representation of  8,800 constituents in each House district and communities with common interests kept together. Interests include sharing a school district and a history.

Reapportionment works to ensure each house representative ideally has 8,797 constituents, each Senate district represents 37,953 constituents, and each Congressional district serves 664,180 constituents.

New House lines in Knox County

District 91: Waldoboro, Washington, Friendship and half of Union. Republican incumbent Ellen Winchenbach of Waldoboro and incumbent Jeffrey Evangelos of Friendship may run against each other if they decide to campaign for reelection.

District 92: Cushing, Thomaston South Thomaston, Matinicus Plantation and St. George. Chuck Kruger is an incumbent Democrat for this district.

District 93: Rockland and Owls Head. Democrat Elizabeth Dickerson is the incumbent in this district.

District 94: Camden, Rockport and Isleboro. Democrat Joan Welsh is the incumbent in this district.

District 95: Warren, Appleton, Hope and part of Union. No incumbent. Richardson is running for this seat.

Senate districts:

District 12: Appleton, Hope, Camden, Rockport, Owls Head, South Thomaston, St. George, Cushing, Thomaston, Warren, Union, North Haven, Isle au Haut, Vinalhaven, Matinicus Plantation and Friendship.The change is Friendship was moved to Knox County. Democrat Ed Mazurek of Rockland is the incumbent for this district.

District 13: Waldoboro and Washington are included in District 13 along with Lincoln County towns Somerville, Nobleboro, Jefferson, Damariscotta, Bremen, Bristol, South Bristol, Newcastle, Alna, Boothbay Harbor, Edgecomb, Boothbay, Southport, Whitefield, Windsor, Wiscasset, Hibberts Gore, Westport Island and Monhegan Plantation. Democrat Christopher Johnson of Somerville is the incumbent for this seat.

A listing of the complete district changes for the state can be found on the state's website.

Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at jlaaka@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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Juliette Laaka
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Juliette primarily covers the cops and courts beat for The Courier-Gazette.

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