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LETTER: District lines are like road kill on a map

To the Editor:

It has been a pleasure to watch the howls of outrage that have accompanied nearly every measure the Republican legislature has passed to dismantle the crony state the Democrats constructed in their 40-year reign in Augusta.

Of course, there were some things that not even the Dems could grouse about in public: the end of $3,000 lunches for bond salesmen, the end of tens of thousands of unaccounted for “gift certificates” by the turnpike authority, the end of welfare benefits for “undocumented” denizens, regulatory reform, etc.

But wherever they could complain with great vitriol, they did. Although most of them voted for the budget and the tax cuts, they certainly raised their voices in disdain—after the measures had safely passed. And they really didn’t like the reform that will allow Mainers to buy insurance across state lines. But since insurance costs less everywhere else in the U.S., they couldn’t get up any interest in trying to overturn that reform by People’s Veto.

So they went after the new law that requires voters to register by the Thursday before the election instead. Amazingly enough, not once in the 40 years the Dems ruled Augusta had anyone found a single case of vote fraud—or looked, for that matter. Now that someone is looking, it may prove interesting.

Which brings us to the mythical creature known as the Gerrymander. It is the Jabberwocky of politics, invented in 1812 by Elbridge Gerry, a founding father, signer of the Declaration of Independence and Governor of Massachusetts in 1810-1811. He was elected Vice President of the United States on the ticket with James Madison in 1812.

Governor Gerry’s singular contribution to American political traditions is the Gerrymander. It is produced by drawing the lines of a district in strangely contorted ways (e.g., salamander-shaped), which is designed to benefit the party drawing the lines. The result often looks on a map like a turkey that met a dump truck.

In some more enterprising states (e.g., Democratic New Jersey), districts have actually been drawn that are tied loosely together by the centerline of a highway. You see, a perfect Gerrymander is where the party victimized by well-drawn lines wins 49 percent of the vote but only 39 percent of the seats up for election.

Nothing quite that interesting has occurred in Maine with our constitutional safeguards. But Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, drawn and redrawn and redrawn again by Democratic majorities, has come close. A map of the district definitely has an ambience of roadkill.

The Dems managed to take the largest district east of the Mississippi and made it larger, no mean feat. Running from the Cumberland County line through Lewiston and Auburn, but around Augusta, all the way to Madawaska and Eastport, the district, designed while occupied by a Democrat incumbent, has succeeded in the ultimate dream of every Gerrymander artiste: No incumbent in the 2nd District has ever been defeated for reelection.

Think about that. Enormous amounts of money and aggravation could be saved nationally if we just put Maine Democrats in charge of all redistricting. Not a single election would be in doubt. And for 40 years, that is exactly how it was in the 2nd District. Unless an incumbent retired or moved up, there was no reason to expect any change in the 2nd District.

Full disclosure: I ran in the 2nd District, or at least my car did. And I got 33% of the vote in the worst year for my party in history. The candidates who ran against the incumbent before me got 28%, 39%, 23%, 27%, 25%, 41%, 48%, 20%, 21%, 23%, 23% and 22%. Every one of them was a snooze fest except in 1992; the incumbent not only survived, she was elected to the U.S. Senate two years later.

So now the Republicans are in charge in Augusta. They put forth a plan to get rid of the roadkill-shaped district and replace it with two more compact districts that look like they were drawn up by good government types. Each district represents Northern and Southern Maine.

Each district would have two media markets and share a third (the current 2nd District now requires a candidate to buy all five media markets). Each district would have a defense industry (only the 1st District does now). Lewiston, Auburn and Portland would be in the same district, while Waterville, Augusta and Bangor would be in the other.

And the howls of outrage begin. This could mean competitive elections! The votes of the unwashed masses may actually have a bearing on who is elected! Congressman Mike Michaud will actually have to defend his record—if he can remember what it is.

Catastrophes all; that’s if you are opposed to actual elections.

 

Professor John Frary of Farmington is a former U.S .Congress candidate and retired history professor, a Board Member of Maine Taxpayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia, and can be reached at: jfrary8070@aol.com

 

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