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Special master asks Democrats, Republicans to seek congressional map compromise

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Nathaniel Persily, the special master, conducted a virtual hearing Monday.

Connecticut’s deadlocked Reapportionment Commission was invited Monday by a court-appointed special master to meet one final time to seek an agreement on congressional district lines.

Special Master Nathaniel Persily noted at a virtual hearing that the maps submitted by Democrats and Republicans on the bipartisan Reapportionment Commission were close enough to suggest a compromise might be possible.

“Let me just do something a little out of the ordinary here, which is to see whether it is possible for you all to go back to the bargaining table, given the fact that you’ve now crystallized your plans?” Persily asked.

He gave them until noon Wednesday to agree on a map or at least report progress. Persily has to recommend a map to the state Supreme Court by Jan. 18

“You all are pretty close to each other,” Persily said.

The state Supreme Court named Persily, a political scientist and Stanford law professor, as special master after the Reapportionment Commission declared an impasse last month on its final task: a map for the five congressional districts.

The commission unanimously adopted maps for the 151 House and 36 Senate districts of the General Assembly. Democrats on the commission declined to act on a congressional map at the urging of the all-Democratic delegation.

The court has ordered Persily to prepare a map that equalizes the population of the five districts while respecting current boundaries to the greatest possible extent.

Following that directive, the two political parties submitted similar maps. But Republicans asked the court to reconsider its parameters and allow Persily to eliminate an awkward district line called the “lobster claw.”

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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 history of the lobster claw goes back to a political gerrymander designed to provide two incumbent members of Congress the opportunity to run for reelection,” said Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, co-chair of the commission.

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.

Republican State Chair Ben Proto said the current map makes little sense, placing New Britain in the Hartford region in the same district as Danbury on the border with New York.

“The problem with the claw, as everyone I think will admit privately, is it’s political,” Proto said. “It is politically gerrymandered to fix a problem that occurred in 2001.”

Ten years ago, the court directed the same special master to produce a map with minimal changes. At the time, the court made clear it viewed reapportionment as a legislative function and the 2001 map essentially was fair.

House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, the other co-chair, noted that two of the five districts remain competitive, even if no Republican has won a congressional seat since 2006.

The Republican candidate for governor carried the 2nd and 5th congressional districts in 2018.

“So the idea there’s no competition, I don’t think the stats back that up,” Ritter said. “But candidates do matter. I will acknowledge that.”