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Connecticut reaches an impasse on congressional reapportionment

Connecticut Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, pulls up his mask during session at the State Capitol, Monday, April 19, 2021.
Jessica Hill
Associated Press
Connecticut Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, pulls up his mask during session at the State Capitol, Monday, April 19, 2021.

Connecticut’s bipartisan Reapportionment Commission failed to meet a deadline of noon Tuesday to agree on congressional districts, setting the stage for a court-appointed special master to take over the task.

The deadlock arises less from differences among state legislators on the panel than the reluctance of the all-Democratic congressional delegation to accept even the smallest losses of political advantage ahead of the midterm elections.

The falling approval ratings of President Joe Biden, a narrow House Democratic majority, and the historic trend of the president’s party losing seats in the midterms all contribute to a sense of volatility in 2022.

“I think the enormity of what’s happening in Washington, the toxicity, the feeling of the tipping balance of Congress, everybody feels that on both sides,” said House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford.

“We’re right now at an impasse, so we’re going back to court,” said House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford.

The impasse was unexpected, given that Democrats and Republicans had agreed on attempting to draw a map that would equalize populations of the five districts without significantly shifting the balance of power.

On behalf of the commission, the attorney general’s office notified the Supreme Court of the impasse, saying Republicans and Democrats separately would suggest the names of a special master. The court had asked the commission to agree on three potential names.

The court quickly replied by noting the commission’s reply was not in compliance with its previous order. If the commission does not agree on three potential special masters by 5 p.m., the justices would appoint their own special master.

“We are not able to agree on three names,” Ritter said of the commission. Given the court’s order, he said the Democrats will not separately submit any names.

Proloy Das, a lawyer representing the Republicans, already had sent three names before the court’s reply: Sean Trende, John Morgan and Thomas M. Bryan. Trende is an analyst with RealClearPolitics, Morgan worked on Michigan’s redistricting, and Bryan is a GOP consultant.

Commission members said they would continue working on a map, but final approval has rested with the Supreme Court since the commission missed a Nov. 30 constitutional deadline.

The court, however, had indicated it would defer to the commission if it produced a map by Dec. 21.

While the members of the congressional delegation have no official role in the process, their consent is sought as a matter of tradition.

Democrats on the commission who have taken calls from congressional representatives declined to share details of those talks, but the lack of consent is evident.

“It’s fair to say that there’s no map to date that seems to get unanimous support,” Ritter said.

Ritter said no one has a veto.

Republicans initially were circumspect about any talks with the congressional delegation.

“We are not communicating with the congressional delegation or Republican candidates,” Candelora said.

Deputy House Minority Leader Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, also a commission member, said the Democrats and Republicans on the commission have worked well, unanimously agreeing on the House and Senate maps for the General Assembly.

“But it sounds like there may be some external forces playing a role in finalizing the congressional map,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, was blunter in a statement Tuesday evening.

“This fell apart because our congressional delegation believes it’s an entitled class,” Kelly said. “Their failure to reasonably negotiate led to an impasse. It’s why nothing gets done in Washington and it is unfortunate that this dysfunction is being brought to our state.”

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.

With a bipartisan commission, no party can dictate a result. Deadlocks essentially are broken by the Supreme Court, which made only the minimal changes required 10 years ago to equalize the populations of the districts.

Connecticut grew by not quite 32,000 people in the past decade, mostly in Fairfield County. Hartford, as well as rural communities in eastern Connecticut, lost population.

The sprawling 2nd District of eastern Connecticut needs to pick up another 21,288 residents, while the 4th District of lower Fairfield County needs to get more geographically compact and shed 25,627 people.

The population deviations are smaller in the other districts: the 1st and 3rd are under by 3,535 and 5,829, respectively, while the 5th is over by 5,024. Since the overpopulated 4th and underpopulated 2nd share no border, changes will have to ripple across the map.

The Redistricting Commission is composed of four Democrats and four Republicans: the Senate president pro tem and the House speaker, who are Democrats, and the House and Senate majority and minority leaders, plus two deputy minority leaders.

The eight appointed a neutral ninth member, ostensibly a tie-breaker. But following precedent, the neutral member, John McKinney, has agreed not to play that role, meaning that no map could be adopted without either a bipartisan deal or court intervention.