After this past November’s election, every voter in town is now aware that Durham pulled the short end of the stick after redistricting—the constitutionally mandated process of redrawing legislative boundaries every ten years to adjust for population shifts. Durham is now split in two entirely different districts in both the State House and the State Senate and we are no longer in a district with our sister town of Middlefield. Election costs have gone up dramatically increasing our taxes, the chances of getting a local representative from Durham or Middlefield is basically non-existent, voter confusion (who are my elected officials; what district am I in?) is rampant. In fact, there has been no bigger issue that has frustrated both local Democrats and Republicans more that I can recall since I became a member of the Board of Selectmen in 2007.
Although blame has been levied at both Democrats and Republicans as to why this occurred, the simple fact of the matter is it was not a Democrat-Republican issue. Instead it was an incumbent issue. Connecticut remains one of the states that still allows legislators themselves to draw their own legislative boundaries every ten years—instead of an independent commission which would take politics and incumbency out of the equation. As one can imagine, this past election the highest number of incumbents running for re-election were victorious as the committee of four Democrat legislators and four Republican legislators made sure every fellow legislator’s district became safer. Making the districts safer is quite an easy process in reality. A Democrat gives the Republican area of his or her district to a Republican in exchange for the more Democratic area of the Republican’s district… and of course vice versa. The problem with this line of thinking is that it puts incumbency and an individual legislator ahead of an entire community. Contrary to what some believe, no one, not even a U.S. Senator or the President of the United States, is important enough to be put ahead of an entire community.
The other more practical problem is that legislators, in their quest for more power and an easier next election, go overboard. This was no more evident than right here in Durham, where Rep. Vinny Candelora (Republican-North Branford), one of the Deputy Minority Leaders and therefore one of the most powerful legislators in the General Assembly, decided he wanted a safer district and selfishly proceeded to take small slices of three different towns (Durham, Guilford, and Wallingford) along with his entire hometown of North Branford to create a district that virtually eliminates the chance for a primary or a general election challenger (not surprisingly, he ended up running unopposed). His slicing and dicing of three different towns in the manner in which he did was so extreme that even some fellow legislators and staffers from his own Republican Party were embarrassed by and apologized for his actions. I myself, as a fellow Republican and long time, personal friend of Mr. Candelora, am deeply disappointed with his unethical behavior and rather pathetic attempts to hide behind the eight fellow legislators who served on the commission.
The good news, however, is twofold. First, is that our Secretary of the State Denise Merrill recently publicly stated at a New London event that “the gerrymandering from this redistricting was absolutely ridiculous." Like Durham, she cited the city of Torrington, which now requires seven different ballots as an example as to why we need independent commissions drawing legislative boundaries. This was the first time in recent memory that a high ranking state official has publicly spoken out about the issue.
Secondly, and more importantly, is that the Connecticut State Constitution is on our side. Although challenging the entire redistricting plan would be too expensive a proposition, challenging what occurred to Durham is a rather simple and inexpensive one. The State Constitution clearly states that “for the purpose of forming assembly districts no town shall be divided except for the purpose of forming assembly districts wholly within the town” (Article XV, adopted November 26, 1980). Come January 9th, 2013, when the new districts go into effect, the town of Durham will become an aggrieved party. From a taxpayer’s point of view, from a legal point of view, and most importantly, from an ethical point of view, please urge your Board of Selectmen to take appropriate action so the situation is properly rectified.
Selectman, Town of Durham