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An inside look at the haggling over Connecticut’s congressional map

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This map shows the current partisan tilt of Connecticut’s congressional districts. The darkest, the 1st and 4th, and the slightly lighter 3rd, are solidly Democratic. The 5th and 2nd, on the west and east, lean Democratic.

Republicans urged significant revisions in Connecticut’s gerrymandered congressional map, then compromised in steps to the point where relatively minor differences separated the GOP from Democrats on the legislature’s bipartisan Reapportionment Commission before an impasse was declared days before Christmas.

In a response to a request under the state Freedom of Information Act, the commission released to CT Mirror the nine maps exchanged by the parties during intense yet ultimately futile negotiations from Nov. 30 to Dec 21, when the state Supreme Court took control of the task of drawing new lines for Connecticut’s five U.S. House districts. The GOP exchanged six; Democrats, three.

They show the evolution of talks in which Democrats hewed to an insistence on making minimal changes to a map that has produced only Democratic victories since 2008, while Republicans eventually settled on relatively modest changes aimed at increasing the competitiveness of either the 2nd or 5th districts. Both lean Democratic but offer the best chances for a GOP comeback.

“We came close,” said House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, co-chair of the commission.

In the end, the impasse was the result of Democrats on the commission bowing to the all-Democratic congressional delegation, whose members could not agree on a map. The commission did meet the deadline for drawing 151 state House and 36 state Senate districts.

“Everything worked, and it was working well, until you bring the specter of Washington to the table,” said Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford. “And then all of a sudden it was no compromise. It was like, ‘No, you can’t change anything.'”

Most delegation members have declined to talk about redistricting, though U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, has acknowledged that he is opposed to adding more towns to his already-sprawling district.

Technically, the process has been under court supervision since Nov. 30, when the commission missed a constitutional deadline for adopting a map equalizing the population of the five districts to reflect the decennial census. But the court essentially gave the commission an extra three weeks before appointing a special master who will produce a map for court approval.

The court is holding an initial, virtual hearing on Friday at 1 p.m. This week, Democrats and Republicans on the Reapportionment Commission submitted their final proposals for consideration by the special master, Nathanial Persily, a Stanford political scientist and law professor who performed the same function a decade ago.

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The final best offer of the Democrats, top, and Republicans, bottom, is now before the Connecticut Supreme Court. The biggest differences are in Torrington, Glastonbury, Shelton and Middletown. The notorious “lobster claw” reaching from the 5th into the 1st would remain.

The special master has until Jan. 18 to produce his own map. It is to be made public no later than Jan. 18, and interested parties may suggest changes until Jan. 24. On Jan. 27, the justices will hold a public hearing.

The current map was negotiated 20 years ago after Connecticut lost one of its six seats. It was awkwardly drawn to place two incumbents, Democrat James Maloney of Danbury and Republican Nancy Johnson of New Britain, in the 5th.

The 5th reaches into the 1st with what politicians have come to call the “lobster claw.” On Nov. 30, Republicans offered a major overhaul that would have eliminated the claw and produced a map with a 5th district that would have been more compact, but one that would tip the political balance towards the GOP.

“My recollection is that I think Speaker Ritter called me and said, ‘Come on, guys. This is too much.’ And we came back with another counteroffer that day on a more reasonable map,” House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford said.

In a brief filed with the court, Democrats said their final map comports with the court’s directive to modify existing lines to the extent required to equalize population. The 4th District of Fairfield needs to shed population, while the 2nd needs to add people.

“Those two districts do not border each other, and residents cannot be transferred from the Third District directly to the Second District without moving one or more whole towns to a new district and/or dividing one or more additional towns,” the Democrats wrote. “Therefore, the adjustments made in the Proposed Plan equalize the districts’ populations while modifying the existing district lines ‘only to the extent reasonably required.’”

The Republicans noted in their brief that they, too, had submitted a map with minimal changes, but they urged the court’s special master to be more ambitious: Draw a map of districts that are more compact, possibly without the “lobster claw.”

“The current congressional map, which was adopted in 2001 and subjected to only minimal changes in 2012, does not honor the principles of compactness or communities of interests,” the Republicans wrote. “The ‘lobster claw’ that makes up the First District proves the point.”

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One of the two maps proposed by Republicans on Nov. 30. They would have minimized the “lobster claw.” The red lines show the current boundaries.

The Democrats offered a version that would unite a divided Torrington in the 1st and a divided Waterbury in the 5th. But the “lobster claw” would remain.

Half of Shelton would move from the 4th District into the 3rd, drawing opposition from U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District. Shelton favors Republicans, but its addition would not change the basic nature of the 3rd: It is the most Democratic district after the 4th and 1st. Democrats wrongly assumed it would be acceptable to the delegation.

“That’s where the whack-a-mole started,” Candelora said.

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DeLauro objected to the shift of Shelton voters from the 4th to the 3rd.

Meanwhile, Courtney, objected to later versions that would have added towns to his district. Rather than simply add voters from Glastonbury, which already spanned the border of the 1st and 2nd, later revisions would have pushed the 2nd into East Windsor, Portland and Durham.

A dozen witnesses have filed notice of an intention to offer testimony to the court on Friday. None are members of the congressional delegation.

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