News Analysis: Legislature shuffles the districts in spite of local wishes Local towns need to leverage new representation

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

While the text of House Bill 589 said that lawmakers would be seeking public — and municipal — input on their reapportionment plan to determine what State House districts will look like for the next 10 years, for officials in most area towns, they apparently were not listening.

The new map shows how area towns will be joined for representation in the State House. Source: Vermont Legislature website

The changes will take effect officially with the next election, which has a primary Aug. 9 and the general Nov. 1.

The measure, which shuffles the districts for House representation in the General Assembly, went ahead largely as originally introduced in spite of dissenting voices on the ground, including from area towns. According to the legislature’s website, the bill passed the House and Senate on voice votes rather than by roll call, in which legislators could be called to account for their choice. So how legislators voted is anyone’s guess.

For some towns, there is not much of a change. Springfield continues to have two representatives, while Cavendish and Weathersfield remain in the same district. But with the breakup of the Windsor 3-1 district, North Springfield joins the Springfield district and Baltimore joins its neighbors in Windsor 2.

Andover and Chester, which share schools, the library, recreation facilities as well as emergency services, have been in the same district for years, currently represented by Tom Bock of Chester. But while both towns’ boards of civil authority — made up of the town clerks, the select boards and the justices of peace — expressed a desire to remain together, the towns were separated into two new districts. In the case of Andover, it will elect a representative as part of the Windham/Windsor district with Jamaica, Londonderry and Weston.

Chester will join Athens, Grafton and Windham in the Windsor/Windham district, which also breaks up the two-member Windham 3 district that had included Grafton, Athens, Rockingham, Brookline and Windham. The re-drawn Windham 3 district will still have two members, but will be made up of Brookline, Rockingham and Westminster.

Members of Grafton’s board of civil authority believed that Chester would be the “big fish” in the proposal and would not share Grafton’s priorities. Members also believed that its current alignment offers a balance of rural/larger towns with similar priorities. That board also noted that Grafton has a long history of having two representatives.

One of those representatives – Carolyn Partridge of Windham – might continue to represent Grafton (as well as Athens and Windham) but those towns have combined populations of about 1,500 while Chester has more than 3,000 residents.

So a Chester challenger could have an advantage in the Windsor/Windham district. While Bock is in the process of moving to northern Vermont to be close to family and is not expected to be a candidate, there’s a question of whether someone from Chester will run for the new seat.

The Weston board of civil authority asked that Weston be part of a House district that would include school choice towns. That board believed that that could be accomplished by dropping Jamaica from the current Windham-Bennington-Windsor district and adding Landgrove to  Stratton, Weston, Londonderry and Winhall.  Instead, the legislature dropped Stratton and Winhall, kept Jamaica and added another non-choice town — Andover.   put Dover, Jamaica, Somerset, Stratton, and Wardsboro together in one district and Weston, Londonderry and Winhall – all school choice towns – together with Andover which is not a school choice town.

Windsor County will continue to have three seats in the state Senate, currently held by Dick McCormack and Alison Clarkson, from the northern part of the county, and Alice Nitka, from the south. So far none has made formal announcements of their plans, but Hartford Rep. Becca White has said she will vie for a seat to replace one of the veteran senators. Her website’s landing page asks, “Ready for the next generation of leadership for Windsor County State Senate?”

Some pundits see an advantage to these new, cross-county maps, but only if the towns utilize their existing connections and relationships, Towns that have been united with one representative — such as Andover and Chester — could begin to work more closely together to push each of their representatives to unite behind legislation that that will benefit each — or both. That’s two voices in the State House.

Maybe this year’s August primaries will be a little less sleepy than in past years.




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Filed Under: AndoverCavendishChesterFeaturedGraftonLatest NewsLondonderryWestonWindham

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