by Rob Roper
Disclosure: The author is also a member of the LAB
Montpelier – The Legislative Apportionment Board (LAB) voted 4-3 on Thursday to pursue a house district map based on creating all single member districts. The new map would eliminate most, if not all, of Vermont’s current 42 two-member house districts. The majority of the committee concluded that this was the fairest way to ensure equal representation for all citizens based on the principle of one person, one vote.
The new map will be refined over the next two weeks before the LAB sends it off to boards of civil authority (BCAs) around the state for input. The final recommendation for the legislature will be ready by mid-August.
Two Progressives (Meg Brook and Steve Hingtgen), two Republicans (Neale Lunderville and Rob Roper) voted in favor of this approach. Two Democrtats (Gerry Gossens and Frank Cioffi) along with the board chair, Tom Little, a former GOP legislator, voted against it, hoping to pursue a more “status quo” approach.
The map itself is non-partisan, and does not take incumbency into account. The board never reviewed or considered incumbents’ physical addresses when drawing district lines. As it turns out, members of all political parties would be affected by the plan, including Speaker of the House Shap Smith (D-Morristown), Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton), and Progressive caucus leader Chris Pearson (P-Burlington).
Smith, who is currently in a two-member district with Peter Peltz (D-Woodbury), would find himself in a single member district encompassing part of his native Morristown and the town of Johnson. The new arrangement would put Smith in the same district with another incumbent, Rep. Mark Woodward, a fellow Democrat.
Turner would find himself in the same district with his current seatmate, fellow Republican and neighbor, Ron Hubert (R-Milton).
Pearson currently serves in a two-member district with Democrat Kesha Rahm. That district would be split, potentially putting Pearson into a head-to-head race with Rahm. It was Rahm who knocked Pearson out of his house seat for two years following the 2008 election.
The LAB had an opportunity to put politics aside in the process of redistricting and to make a map that best reflects the communities, relationships, and equal rights of representation for 625,000 Vermonters. In the end, the majority agreed that when weighed against these ideals the personal self-interest of 150 politicians shouldn’t carry much influence. In the end, the legislature will have the final word. Whether or not they adhere to the same principles remains to be seen. (But, we’re taking bets.)