State panel proposes adding Charlotte to county Senate district

ADDISON COUNTY — Addison County’s senatorial district would swap Brandon for Charlotte in a proposed redistricting plan recently endorsed by the Vermont Apportionment Board (VAB), which had until July 1 to submit final proposals for legislative review.
The Senate reapportionment map — which also transforms Chittenden County from one six-seat district to three two-seat districts — is purely a recommendation, as is the House proposal, and could be tossed out by the Legislature in favor of another plan. But lawmakers at this point seem to be taking more of a shine to the VAB’s Senate recommendations than the panel’s House revision, which calls for 150 single-seat districts and several divided communities.
“It (the Senate plan) was the least onerous of the proposals that I saw,” said former state Sen. Gerry Gossens, D-Salisbury, who served on the VAB.
Related content:
View the reapportionment map (PDF)
“I was sorry to have Brandon go, as our senators had become used to dealing with Brandon and Brandon residents had become used to dealing with our senators,” Gossens added.
The seven-member VAB was charged late last year with redrawing House and Senate district lines to reflect the new decennial census numbers in a manner that is consistent with the constitutional standard of “one person, one vote.” Based on federal census numbers, each Vermont Senate district should have roughly 21,000 citizens per senator.
Gossens noted the VAB’s biggest challenges in tackling the Senate map were reconciling a population that had shifted to the northwest part of the state; and responding to increasing citizen requests to fracture a Chittenden County district that has six senators.
“There has been a drumfire against a six-member district for a long time,” Gossens said. “We have heard a lot of requests to break up the six-seat district. It is the one thing we have heard from citizens with any consistency.”
And once you start tinkering with the map, Gossens explained, “it’s like dominoes falling,” as adding voters to one district means subtracting some from an adjoining district.
Using sophisticated computer software, the VAB toyed with several different mapping scenarios, rejecting, among others, a plan to create 30 single-seat Senate districts. A majority of the panel ultimately voted to recommend a plan that, among other things, re-shapes the western and northwestern sections of the state by establishing:
• A two-seat Addison County district that includes Charlotte.
• A three-seat Rutland County district that includes Brandon.
• A two-seat Chittenden Central district representing the city of Burlington.
• A two-seat Chittenden East district that includes Essex, Westford, Underhill, Jericho, Bolton, Richmond, Huntington, Hinesburg and Buels Gore.
• A two-seat Chittenden West district that includes South Burlington, Williston, Shelburne and St. George.
• A two-seat Grand Isle-Chittenden district that includes Colchester, Milton, South Hero, Grand Isle, Georgia, North Hero, Isle LaMotte and Alburg.
Gossens acknowledged the new Senate map, if adopted by the Legislature, would present some electoral changes for some voters — including residents of Charlotte, who would suddenly share two senators with Addison County. But such a change might be welcomed, according to Charlotte selectboard Chairman Charles Russell. Suddenly, Charlotte would not be competing for attention and representation in the largest of the state’s senatorial districts.
“It is a subject that comes up,” Russell said of the town’s potential political affiliation with Addison County. “At times we can relate more to Addison County, with all the farming that is going on. We are trying to maintain our working landscape.”
Examining recent voting trends, swapping Brandon for Charlotte would appear to favor Democrat candidates — who already hold both the county’s Senate seats and all but three local House seats. A majority of Brandon voters have traditionally supported Republican candidates in local, state and federal elections.
Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Weybridge, said the proposed Senate map will probably meet with some resistance, as it proposes to shake up political boundaries that have been in place for decades. But she believes a Brandon-for-Charlotte swap has a good chance of garnering support.
“I think there are more people in Brandon who would prefer to be in (the) Rutland County (Senate district),” Ayer said. “And the Rutland County senators have all said, ‘Brandon will soon return to us.’”
Ayer said she would personally enjoy doing some future campaigning in Charlotte, where she was raised.
“I think it would be a ton of fun,” said Ayer, who has yet to decide her political plans for 2012. Ayer currently chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, which has laid a lot of groundwork for the state’s health care reform law and figures to do more work during the next few years helping to build what would be a single-payer system.
Sen. Harold Giard, D-Bridport, agreed that constituents in both Brandon and Charlotte could be well-served by the proposed switch in districts. Giard said many Brandon residents are already orientated toward Rutland County when it comes to shopping, regional planning and economic development.
“I think Rutland County would welcome Brandon back with open arms,” Giard said.
He also believes the addition of Charlotte to the Addison County senatorial district would represent a “good marriage.”
“I think it would be a comfortable fit,” Giard said. “I think there would be good communication as well.”
Gossens acknowledged the proposed new Senate map could make some current incumbents feel more vulnerable at the polls for future elections. But he hopes the map is judged on its own merits.
“I think the Senate map is certainly going to be in the desire of people in the Chittenden County area,” Gossens said. “My sense is that it will be difficult for the Senate to ignore it.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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