Dividing Up the State: Legislators Voice Concerns

ORLEANS - If many people care about the Vermont House Seat reapportionment in the state, it wasn’t evident at a hearing conducted by the House Committee on Government Operations. The hearing, held at Lake Region Union High School Wednesday evening, only drew about 15 local residents, most of whom were politicians or connected to politics.The Constitution mandates that the General Assembly be reapportioned within two years after the national census takes place. Both houses and the governor need to approve any changes. Some of the district changes mean nothing, but others are significant. Wednesday’s hearing was the first of six that will be held across the state over the next several weeks. Reapportionment occurs when the legislature redraws the district lines. A voter who previously voted in one district for a choice of two representatives could, after reapportionment, find himself or herself voting in a different district for only one representative. The difference is crucial when it comes to having a voice in the legislature, yet the importance of how those lines are divided seems to have escaped most voters.A few of the local representatives are pleased with the proposals, but others are distraught. Rep. John Rodgers from Glover likes “a lot of the proposal” as he always thought two-seat districts were problematic. “I think it is much clearer, one person, one vote, if there are all single seat districts,” he said.However, not everyone feels that same way. Rep. Michael Marcotte of Coventry said the district, the way it is now, has less than one percent deviation away from the numbers of constituents it should have. Marcotte is concerned his district will lose some voters from Newport City, but gain voters from Lowell. He currently shares his district with Rep. Duncan Kilmartin.“Lowell is on the other side of the mountain,” he said. “People from my district generally don’t interact that much with people from the Missisquoi Valley.” Under the proposal, residents from Lowell might have a difficult time getting elected because people there don’t know the voting constituency in Newport, said Marcotte, who would like things to remain somewhat the same.Rep. Bob Lewis of Derby is concerned with discrepancies in the census. Splitting up a district in a town can create serious problems, he said. Lewis said it’s hard enough to get people to vote without telling them they can’t vote at a familiar location.Lewis shares his district with Rep. Lynn Batchelor.Several House Committee members agreed with Lewis.Foreigners fear authority and may not tell the truth to census takers, Committee Ken Atkins of Chittenden-3-6 said. He said people living in a two-bedroom apartment might say there are four people living there when in reality there are 14. Atkins said census takers can’t tell the person who answers the door that they want to enter and look around.Rep. Sam Young, who recently moved to Glover, feels Albany, Glover, Craftsbury and Greensboro would make a good district. According to Young, residents of those communities requested that combination be their single member district. However, it would put Barton, Sheffield and Wheelock together, communities that Young feels don’t have much in common.Rep. Vicki Strong of Albany agreed. She said Sheffield and Wheelock residents tend to be separated from communities in the Barton area.Sheffield Heights creates a geological division between Orleans and Caledonia counties at that point.Orleans County Republican Chair Chet Greenwood of Derby feels Northeast Kingdom residents are well represented and hates to see a change. He said geographical boundaries that separate some districts should be taken into consideration. Greenwood said it’s dysfunctional to have districts in more than one county.Lewis said there might not have been many people at the meeting, but local legislatures have received a lot of input about the issue. Lewis said the feeling is that voters who want their representatives have to go to bat for them. What many of them want, said Lewis, is to leave things alone.Rep. Lynn Batchelor of Derby Line agreed with Lewis. She said voters feel they have two people they can talk to, that their representatives are easily accessible and voters want things left as they are.