Reapportionment in Legislature could split up local district
By Jim Harrison
I want to thank all that took a moment to visit during my recent “Office Hours” a.k.a. “Dump & Donuts” tour through the district recently. It was good to be out and see many of you.
And just to be sure that I don’t take myself too seriously, while talking to a resident at the Killington transfer station, his dog decided to fertilize my “Dump & Donuts” sign. Perhaps he was indicating his displeasure with me not having a more appropriate snack for the canines passing through. Next time…
Putting the puzzle together
As Pat will attest, I am not the world’s greatest jigsaw puzzler. In truth, you may find me looking for something else to do to avoid finding homes for the hundreds of pieces set out on the table.
The Vermont Legislature will have a different type of puzzle to work on during the 2022 session: reapportionment. To comply with constitutional requirements of equal representation, the House and Senate districts must be reviewed and adjusted as necessary every 10 years following the Census.
While the number of legislative seats remains constant (150 House and 30 Senate), reapportionment must address changes in population throughout the state. No surprise, but there has been a general decline in population in the southern and northeast sections of Vermont and an increase in the northwest area (Chittenden and Franklin counties). That will translate into more representatives for the northwest and fewer elsewhere.
To start off the process, a seven-member independent Legislative Apportionment Board (LAB) comes up with a proposal to redraw district lines for the House and Senate and presents it to the Legislature for their consideration. It is the Legislature that must pass a bill incorporating the district changes. And that is where the puzzle making exercise can get interesting.
In its initial draft sent out to towns for feedback, the LAB deviated from current practice by instituting 150 single member House districts. Currently there are 46 two-member districts and 58 single-member districts. Our district of Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon is a single member district.
Why the change? A 4-3 tripartisan majority of the LAB felt single member districts were more fair. I’m inclined to agree. With single member districts, every resident has one state representative to the House and not two as multi-member districts currently have.
Additionally, with smaller one-member districts, it becomes easier for candidates, especially new ones, to connect with the voters in that district one on one.
The new target per House district is 4,287 residents, which would require 8,574 as a target if two-member districts continued. While some deviation is allowed, it’s easy to see that there are time and financial barriers for new candidates to introduce themselves in a larger district.
The LAB draft for House districts will likely be tweaked after feedback from the towns and then they will propose a Senate map. One idea floated for the Senate has been all single-member Senate districts with each comprised of five House districts to insure equal representation.
No matter which way the puzzle is put together, there is likely to be some dissatisfaction.
Our district, Rutland-Windsor-1, in the draft proposal gets cut into two new districts. The first would comprise: Chittenden, most of Mendon and over half of Rutland Town; the second: Killington, part of Mendon, Bridgewater, Pittsfield and Stockbridge.
As the incumbent representative, my first reaction would be to keep the district four towns alone. After all, all four communities have supported my candidacy in the past. However, what that does to surrounding districts is unknown, especially given Killington’s 73% increase in population over the 2010 census. Our four towns now total about 4,700 residents.
It will be interesting to see how the Legislature, reacts to the LAB proposal. The General Assembly is under no obligation to accept the LAB proposal.
We could continue with many two-member House districts and multi-member Senate ones if less of a change is easier to accept. Or it could get political if the majority party redraws districts in a way that benefits them. However, my sense is that a final product will pass in tripartisan manner as it did in 2012. Compromises will need to be made to complete the puzzle.
Stay tuned… and enjoy the last vestiges of fall foliage!
Jim Harrison is the state house representative of Rutland-Windsor-1,which currently comprises Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon. He can be reached at [email protected]