The following commentary is by Paul Dame, chair of the Vermont GOP.
Democratic leadership of the Government Operations committee had originally planned to vote their first map out of the committee on just the third day of the session. This was originally scheduled to happen with very little discussion and initially not one person from the majority of the Apportionment Board was invited to testify. Thankfully our Republican legislators on the committee worked to bring in some of the necessary perspectives.
To make matters worse, the committee’s chair decided to reject the map approved by a tri-partisan majority of the committee, and instead wanted to put forward a map drawn entirely by the Democratic Party’s appointee, which the board rejected. If input was taken from anyone else — it was done so before or outside of the public committee process.
Some Democrats are pointing out that this is just the “first step” in the process. But it should be troubling to every Vermonter that the first step is to subvert the majority in favor of the Democratic Party’s map! Why aren’t we using the approved tri-partisan map as a starting point, since it already has the most support?
Of Vermont’s 246 towns that reviewed the apportionment 151 had no objections. More specifically 99 voiced no objection, and 52 affirmed that they supported the map as it was drawn. In contrast only 34 returned comments wanting to go back to multi-member districts, but 11 of those comments made requests that conflicted with other input or the Vermont Constitution.
This means that over half the BCAs were fine starting with the Approved Map. And with 11 requests that the legislature can’t satisfy, this means that about 23 towns have feedback that the committee would need to address. It seems like we are going to reach a place of broader agreement faster if the committee starts working on those 23 comments, instead of wasting the time and effort put in previously, and opens the door to 246 potential new comments.
What is the good reason to throw away the work of the tri-partisan committee? Is it because Democrats didn’t get the feedback they wanted?
Rep. McCarthy said that his own BCA “said conflicting things” but both the St. Albans Town and St. Albans City approved the map; the City did so in public record, the Town met and approved unofficially. Both made further suggestions with an “if possible” caveat — but the bottom line is that there was general agreement to the map they were presented. Why would Majority Whip McCarthy misrepresent what his district said in public comments, and then also throw out the map his BCA supported? Is that a better representation of his people — or himself and his Party?
There are other places where the rejected map would actually UNDO work that the approved map got support for. Manchester took the noble position that even though their town has benefited from a 2-member district, they thought in fairness that it should be split. The towns of Arlington, Sandgate & Sunderland also agreed to be split to have better representation for their more rural part of the district. You can read all of the public comments from the BCAs HERE. The rejected map would join two districts that have already publicly commented that they prefer to be separate. They don’t want it, only the Democrats do.
This is one of the reasons we need to move away from multi-member districts. They rob power of smaller more rural Vermont communities and give it to the larger population centers. This kind of practice is exactly what used to happen in southern states to disenfranchise people of color, according to testimony taken from the Apportionment Board, which the Government Operations Committee has not heard yet.
I can’t determine what the intentions of Democratic leadership are. But my concern is that if we throw away the good work done by the apportionment board which has already been completed, documented, and reviewed, then we will run out of time to get a 2nd or 3rd cycle of feedback. Then the Democratic majority could rightly say they have been forced by time to largely adopt the map that was drafted by the Democratic Party’s appointee, rejected by the apportionment board, and sent to BCAs whose members are currently tied up in budget and Town Meeting Day preparations. But you can do that when you’re a super-majority.
Our society and our democracies grow stronger when we build on the progress of those who came before us. The Apportionment board took several hours of testimony, had a more equitable distribution of each political party and was chaired by an appointee of the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice. It was a good and fair process that produced a good map. The Government Operations committee has an opportunity to extend that good work. They can add value and their own input by examining the requests the Apportionment Board ran out of time to address, while retaining the work that has already satisfied more than half of the state’s municipalities. If Democrats in the legislature can work with Republicans on the feedback that has already been provided instead of starting from scratch and wasting the time and work that has already been done, then we can get a better more equitable map for all Vermonters for the next decade.
I am proud of our Vermont Republicans who, despite being in the minority, have already been able to examine the committee’s process, and pushed back on the rush to ask for some testimony that had been initially over looked by the committee. I am confident that their efforts will make sure that we can still produce a new map with legislative input for the BCAs to review that can incorporate the elements that towns have already seen and are happy with — and also make some measure of progress on potential issues that could still get completed by January 30th, which was the date their committee produced a bill in 2012.