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Reps grapple with the realities of new district lines

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In 2020, Cheshire Democrat Jim Jinks lost a hard-fought race to Wallingford Republican Craig Fishbein for the 90th House district.

After initial reports called Jinks the winner, a tabulation error led to a recount revealing that Fishbein had in fact won by seven votes.

There will be no revenge.

The state’s bipartisan Redistribution Commission approved changes last fall that removed Cheshire from the 90th District and added Republican-friendly Middlefield.

“I guess they wanted to get as far away from me as possible,” Jinks said Friday of the 90th Ward moving east. “I guess I’ll take that as a compliment.”

The new maps, approved in November by the State Redistribution Commission, will go into effect with the November state elections.

While state Senate lines will see relatively little change, House districts have changed significantly.

Cheshire Democratic Town chairwoman Courtney Cullinan was more harshly critical of the 90th district change, calling it “obviously political” and “blatant”, in an interview with The Connecticut Mirror.

Fishbein said he was happy to hear he would be representing Middlefield, citing personal ties to the area.

“The opportunity to represent Middlefield is particularly heartening to me,” Fishbein said. “Until their death, my maternal grandparents lived there for many years and my family ran a factory in town. I used to work there during college summers. Thanks to them, I have been part of Middlefield for decades.

But while changes in the 90th may benefit Republicans, other redistricting changes arguably benefit Democrats.

Middlefield is currently in the 82nd District, held by Democratic State Rep. Michael Quinn of Meriden. By placing Middlefield in the 90th starting this fall, the new maps pushed the 82nd district west, making it a Meriden-only district, likely helping Quinn and the Democrats. Meriden tends to vote for the Democrats, and the candidate for the 82nd District doesn’t have to face an out-of-town challenger or woo out-of-town voters.

“Whenever a district is made up of a single community, it’s slightly easier to function for both incumbents and challengers,” Quinn said in an email. “In the 2020 race I was better known in Meriden because that’s where I’m from and my opponent was better known in Middlefield and Rockfall because that’s where he’s from.” Rockfall is a village in Middlefield.

In the 2022 race, all 82nd candidates will be from the same city, so name recognition becomes a little less of a factor in theory, Quinn said.

The 10-year redistribution is based on the 2020 census, which saw population gains in some areas and losses in others. It also reflected a federal law stipulating that prisoners should be counted in the census as residents of their last known address, not as residents of towns that house the prison.

Counting inmates as residents of the cities where they are incarcerated inflates the demographics of those municipalities, while decreasing the populations of other municipalities and negatively impacting their legislative and municipal constituencies, according to a statement from Governor Ned Lamont’s office in may. 2021 when he signed a law allowing the change.

Cheshire is home to the Cheshire Correctional Institution, among other Department of Corrections facilities.

The suppression of the prison population has reduced the population of Cheshire’s 103rd district, represented by Democrat Liz Linehan, by around 1,300.

As of the 2020 census, Connecticut state officials averaged 23,880 residents. The redistribution moved the 103rd’s lines south. The district will now include more of Cheshire and part of Hamden, in addition to part of Wallingford. He loses part of Southington.

“Constituencies are designed to have a certain number of voters. So having the prison out of that calculation, the numbers were made up somewhere else,” Linehan said. “I am very happy to have received more Cheshire and part of Hamden, but I cannot say whether the laws applicable to gerrymandering in prison have had an effect on this or not. Had this passed and come into effect in a year without redistricting, that answer would have been different.

Linehan said moving the 90th out of Cheshire was interesting, but she wasn’t surprised.

“Cheshire has not lost its overall representation as part of the city now includes part of the 83rd. The number of representatives remains the same,” she said.

Fishbein District’s move eastward also came as no surprise to Democrat Mary Mushinsky, who represents Wallingford’s 85th District.

“They might have wanted to protect (Fishbein) from Cheshire,” Mushinsky said of the switch. “I think that helped him not having Cheshire.”

The north-eastern part of Cheshire will now be part of the 83rd district, which also includes parts of Meriden and Berlin. He is currently represented by Democat Catherine Abercrombie, who has announced that she will not stand for re-election in November.

Fishbein’s 90th District also took over part of Wallingford once represented by Republican Representative Vincent Candelora in the 86th District.

“I knew my district was going to be affected when the legislature agreed to take the jails out of the districts,” Fishbein said. “Part of Liz Linehan’s district (the 103rd), I knew these individuals would come out of her district.”

Fishbein’s Democratic opponent, Rebecca Hyland of Wallingford, said that while it appears to be a gift for Republicans, the change in the 90th District presents an opportunity to reach new voters. Hyland announced his candidacy last week.

“A lot of Middlefield is unaffiliated,” Hyland said. “Middlefield is a small town. There are fewer people to contact, but we can make inroads. People are tired of the meanness and want to know how we’re going to solve some of these problems.

Mushinsky’s 85th, composed entirely of Wallingford, lost its population and moved northwest to reclaim more densely populated areas of the city. In exchange, the district lost voters on the east side of I-91.

The process of redistricting the state involves a bipartisan commission. Other states have had redistricting settled through the courts and some allow the ruling party in the legislature to draw the maps.

“It’s my least favorite,” Mushinsky said. “Ours is also represented. The other party has a right of veto, while trying to adapt to the character of the district.

Linehan was delighted to reclaim more of Cheshire, she said, including the City Council‘s second and fourth districts. Linehan said the inclusion of Hamden and the move out of Southington brings the 103rd “closer to how the 103rd District was drawn before the 2010 redistricting”.

Republican State Representative Lezlye Zupkus represents the 89th District, which covers West Cheshire and Prospect and Bethany.

Candelora, who is the House Minority Leader, was a member of the Redistribution Commission.

“We try to keep all the important principles intact, as you know, respecting the integrity of cities and the demographic composition of communities, as well as the location of incumbents,” Candelora said. The Connecticut Mirror.