Vermont redistricting plan heads to governor
MILTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A seismic shift in political representation is on the horizon in Vermont as part of the redistricting plan approved by lawmakers Wednesday. Over the last decade, the population in Chittenden County communities like Milton has grown, while the Northeast Kingdom and other rural areas have lost residents. If signed by the governor, the plan will result in big changes in the Senate.
“Some people are happy and some people are not happy. I think we did the right thing,” said Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham County.
Under the redistricting plan, Caledonia County would lose a senator, reducing representation in the Northeast Kingdom down to just three seats.
Senator Joe Benning, R-Caledonia County, who is running for lieutenant governor, says the new map could have an impact on the interests of rural Vermont. “When I left the Senate, made that decision to leave, I really think I created a vacuum by which they sought to draw lines that would preserve the people who are remaining as senators,” he said.
Chittenden County was the biggest single senate district in the country, with six senators elected at large. Under the new plan, it’s been broken into three districts -- two with three senators each, and a new seat representing Milton, Fairfax, and Westford.
Some lawmakers, including Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden County, will represent about a third of the residents they previously did. “A closer group of people that I’ll have to be in closer contact with more often. And I think that’s all to the good and that’s why we broke up the district in the first place -- to make it more fundamentally democratic,” Baruth said.
Former journalist Steve Terry covered the Statehouse in 1965, when lawmakers in the original apportionment vote, reduced the number of House seats from 246 to 150. He says the new maps could change the political dynamics between parties in the Chittenden County Senate races. “It’ll be more competitive and I think that’s how it’ll change. And it will, in turn, be reflected in the kind of legislation that is passed,” he said.
Senate lawmakers we spoke to say while the proposed changes mean more power will be going to urban areas, the role of lawmakers, ideally, is to pass bills for the best interest of the state, not just their home county.
The plan includes many small tweaks to House districts based on population changes. Lawmakers rejected a recommendation of the Reapportionment Commission to move to 150 single-member districts and kept in place a mix of single and multi-member districts.
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