Connecticut NAACP Considering Legal Action Against State Redistricting Panel Over Its All-White Membership
By Gregory B. Hladky
December 14, 2011
The head of the Connecticut NAACP calls it “astonishing and heart breaking” that the legislative committee deciding on how this state’s political boundaries should be redrawn doesn’t have a single minority member.
The absence of any African American or Latino lawmaker on the redistricting panel could trigger legal action by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, according to Scott X. Esdaile.
“We don’t know yet if we’re going to file a lawsuit,” Esdaile said Wednesday as he headed into a meeting with a top Republican legislative leader.
“We’re really upset that we were excluded,” added Esdaile, president of this state’s NAACP chapter, which has 16 branches throughout Connecticut.
The eight-member bipartisan redistricting panel originally included the top four Democratic and Republican leaders in the General Assembly, plus four other veteran lawmakers.
State House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, stepped down from the panel late last month. Donovan is running for Congress in the 5th District and critics complained his role on the reapportionment panel, which is charged with redrawing congressional district lines as well as state legislative boundaries, was a conflict of interest.
Donovan was replaced on the redistricting committee by state House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, who is also white.
The committee was unable to come up with a congressional plan they could agree upon, the members brought in a ninth member, Democrat Kevin Johnson, a former lawmaker and former state auditor. He is – you guessed it - white.
The state Constitution gives top legislative leaders the right to name members of the redistricting panel, and they traditionally start by naming themselves.
After meeting with Esdaile, state House Republican Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr. of Norwalk says he can’t discuss any of the potential legal issues involved. “But they have a point, no question about it,” he adds.
Cafero says the one House Republican lawmaker he named to the redistricting panel, state Rep. Arthur O’Neill of Southbury, was chosen because O’Neill had been involved in the last redistricting effort a decade ago: “I wanted someone experienced.”
According to Cafero, House Republicans tried to take minority concerns “into account” as much as possible when redrawing boundaries for the state House and Senate and congressional districts.
He says the final state legislative map increased the number of districts where minorities make up an actual majority of the population from eight to 10. Republicans also suggested switching Bridgeport from the 4th Congressional District to the 3rd CD to bring the minority population in that district to 42 percent.
Cafero admits there’s “a flip side to that,” which is that removing Bridgeport from the 4th CD would make it easier for a Republican to win there.
“I certainly understand where [the NAACP] is coming from,” says Cafero, “but I’d hate to see our work undone.”
State House Democrats sought to counter any “all-white” complaints about their part of the redistricting panel in advance. Donovan named one Latino (state Rep. Andres Ayala of Bridgeport) and one African American (state Rep. Toni Walker of New Haven) as “Special Advisors to the House Democratic redistricting effort.”
Looney and the state Senate’s top Democratic leader, Donald E. Williams Jr. of Brooklyn, didn’t care to talk about anything related to the very white nature of the redistricting committee.
“They decline to comment on any part of the process because we’re in the middle of serious negotiations,” says Senate Democratic spokesman Adam Joseph.
Esdaile says he plans to meet with Democratic legislative leaders next week and will then meet with other NAACP leaders to discuss possible legal action.
He says it’s remarkable that there’s no minority representation on the committee, particularly since the African American and Latino communities in Connecticut played such a critical role in the 2010 elections for governor and other offices.
“It’s astonishing and heart breaking that at this time the state of Connecticut isn’t bringing all communities, all ethnic groups to the table,” Esdaile says.