Effects of Reapportionment on Lincoln and Worcester

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(Host) Every ten years, the Vermont Legislature draws new lines on the map of Vermont. The new boundaries define legislative House districts. The changes are made to reflect shifts in population over the decade.

The proposed Republican plan has drawn fire from Democrats, who say it stacks the deck against their minority party. The same charges were heard in the 1980s, when the Democrats ruled the House.

But as VPR’s John Dillon reports, there’s local as well as political opposition to some of the proposed changes.

(Dillon) Under the Republican reapportionment plan, a four thousand foot mountain would divide the new legislative district in Warren and Lincoln. Residents say the two communities aren’t that much alike.

Warren is a ski resort town. Many people who live there have moved in from out of state. Lincoln is smaller, more rural and more remote. Warren and Lincoln kids go to different schools. The towns are in different counties. And the steep road between them is closed in the winter:

(Wetmore) “With the new redistricting, we’d have very little in common with the folks over the mountain. Not to mention that eight months of the year, it’s pretty difficult to get there.”

(Dillon) David Wetmore is a member of the Board of Civil Authority in Lincoln, which oversees town elections. Wetmore’s a Republican, and the plan was drawn up by Republicans. But Wetmore says he wishes politics wasn’t part of the reapportionment process:

(Wetmore) “I’d like to think whoever gets voted in, it’s the will of the people. I like to think that whoever represents me will listen to my concerns… and vote their conscience knowing that it may affect my livelihood and everything else I do¿. I really don’t think this should be a political arena.”

(Dillon) Wetmore and the Board of Civil Authority want Lincoln to stay in the Addison County district, since that includes towns with a similar economic and social base.

The Lincoln-Warren House district could pit two Democrats against each other. Representative Kinney Connell represents Warren. Democrat Michael Fisher was elected from the other side of the mountain:

(Fisher) “Every Monday morning I go to the Addison County legislators’ breakfast. I don’t know what happens in Warren. I’ll have a lot to learn about what schools Warren and Granville goes to. Lincoln … is squarely a part of Addison County, as is Starksboro and Monkton, which is a more agricultural county and less of a tourist industry. We have no economic ties with the other side of the mountain. The joke is that I’d need a snow machine to get to the other side¿of my district.”

(Dillon) This is only Fisher’s second year in the Legislature. But he says he expected politics to be part of reapportionment.

(Fisher) “I wasn’t terribly surprised that the typical game playing would pit Democrats against each other. I was surprised that they were willing to ignore what communities wanted to the degree that they did.”

(Dillon) Fisher says there’s an easy solution to the problem: realign the Addison County districts so that towns in that county stay together.

People in Worcester, about 45 miles northwest, have the same concerns. The Republican plan would put the Washington County town of Worcester with Morristown, a much bigger community in Lamoille County.

Paul Hanlon is on the Worcester Board of Civil Authority, which has unanimously opposed the plan. Hanlon says Worcester kids don’t go to school in Lamoille County. And he says Worcester is 25 minutes from Morristown.

Hanlon says that the nonpartisan reapportionment board last summer outlined some simple principles for the Legislature should follow. He says the main goal was to keep similar communities together in the same legislative districts:

(Hanlon) “I think if those principles are followed, reapportionment doesn’t need to be so hard. It’s just when you try to treat some communities as if they just have to be appendages to others that it becomes difficult and people get upset. I think it’s doable and the legislative reapportionment board did a reasonable job of trying to present that plan to the Legislature.”

(Dillon) The House Republicans, however, didn’t follow the reapportionment board’s suggestions. The Republican plan will be voted on this week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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