FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. Republicans want to beat Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Himes so badly next November that they're willing to make a dramatic redistricting change to make it happen.
As part of the once-a-decade update of voting districts, state Republicans have proposed moving Bridgeport out of the 4th Congressional District, which covers southern Fairfield County, and into the 3rd District, which is dominated by New Haven.
"Nobody ever seems to complain that Democrats currently hold all five of the congressional seats, so why should we hesitate to recommend changes that would make the map more equitable by boosting minority representation to over 40 percent in two districts," said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk and co-chairman of the legislature's Redistricting Commission.
Democrats and Republicans alike believe such a major map change could cost Himes re-election to a third term. Himes, a Democrat from Greenwich, won election in 2008 and 2010 with overwhelming voter support in heavily Democratic Bridgeport, the state's largest city, and in Stamford, another Democratic stronghold.
The district currently includes 17 towns and cities, including Stamford, Norwalk, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Weston, Westport and Wilton.
Himes has declined to comment on the possible map change. But his spokeswoman, the state's all-Democratic Congressional delegation and Bridgeport's Democratic Mayor Bill Finch have all weighed in on the issue.
"The congressman firmly believes that the redistricting goals of ensuring one-person-one vote and maintaining the continuity of existing community boundaries can be achieved by making minor changes to the existing congressional map," said Elizabeth Kerr, director of media relations for Himes. "We will not speculate about a hypothetical district."
After the legislature's bipartisan nine-member reapportionment commission recently failed to reach agreement on the congressional maps, Connecticut's highest court ruled to extend the panel's Dec. 1 deadline by three weeks. The panel now has until Dec. 21 to reach a decision, or for the first time in anyone's memory, the State Supreme Court will draw the new map.
"As Connecticut's redistricting efforts move forward, we, the members of the House of Representatives representing Connecticut, want to make clear that we believe Connecticut does not need major changes to the existing congressional district lines given the modest changes in the most recent census," the state's five-member Congressional delegation said in a statement.
Adding more intrigue to the gerrymandering clash, several local Republican political leaders are in positions of power to potentially make it happen.
Those pushing for a redrawn political map include Cafero and state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, also a member of the redistricting panel.
They say shifting Bridgeport into a district with New Haven, the home base of veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, could create a stronger minority district, where African Americans and Latinos would have a better chance to become members of Congress.
But removing Bridgeport from the 4th District would transform it to Republican congressional dominance, Democrats say, and weaken minority representation in Bridgeport, a city where minorities are the majority.
"I have to laugh when some say this is politically motivated. Well, it's a political process and a political map," Cafero said. "If that results in the Republicans having a better chance to gain election in the 4th District, then so be it. What's wrong with that?"
What's wrong with it, according to state Senate Pro Tem Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, co-chairman of the Redistricting Commission with Cafero, is that it would greatly reduce the minority representation in the 4th District from 35 percent to 25 percent.
"If the goal were to help create Republican congressional districts, then that (the GOP) plan would make sense," Williams said.
"But since there is no need for a dramatic change in the Congressional district maps based on a very small voter increase in one district, I think it's a terrible idea," he said.
"We had a 15,000 voter increase in District 2, and that can be easily remedied by shifting some of those voters to other districts.
"But there's no reason to make the radical move of shifting Bridgeport out of its Fairfield County congressional district and placing it with New Haven," Williams said.
Bridgeport's Mayor Finch agreed. "For the betterment of Bridgeport, we must stay united with Fairfield County in the 4th District," Finch said. "Bipartisan teams of redistricters have kept Bridgeport in the Fairfield County-based 4th District since the modern process began in 1965. I strongly urge the redistricting panel or judges, to recognize Bridgeport's central and historic role in Fairfield County."
Although the Redistricting Commission unanimously approved new districts for 151 state House and 36 state Senate districts, the panel could not agree on the new Congressional map and requested the 21-day extension.
Cafero and Williams say they believe an agreement can be reached. "I'm an optimistic guy. There may be room for some compromise," Cafero said. Williams said, "I still expect that to happen. I think in the end we can agree on a reasonable plan. Once it goes to the court, anything can happen."
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