Looking for compromise among RTM on redistricting plan

To the Editor:

As the Republican Party chairman, I was saddened to read the letter written by my counterpart, Ellery Plotkin, demeaning and angrily lashing out at Republican members of the RTM.

The nasty tone of his letter is shameful and leads few to wonder why we have such gridlock in our government when the tone set by our leaders is so negative. With the failure of the RTM to redistrict, we, as party leaders, should be working to bring people together to forge a compromise and not facilitating a further divide.

Unfortunately, it was this partisan nonsense that led to gridlock on the RTM redistricting committee in the first place. The theme of what is best for my party seems to be shadowing what is best for our town.

Although the judge did not side with the actions taken by the Republicans, the reasoning behind why those actions taken were far from sinister. When the redistricting committee was formed well over a year and a half ago, it became apparent early on that the committee was not going to come to a consensus.

Following several non-productive meetings of the committee, I was informed by Republican RTM leaders that they had serious concerns over the lack of progress. The Republican RTM members wanted eight RTM districts and Democrats wanted to stay with 10.

Having served on the RTM myself and recruited candidates for the RTM, I personally believe that a smaller body would be more productive, save taxpayer money by having fewer polling places and would be easier to recruit qualified and willing candidates for. On the later point, just look at this year. I could only find 46 candidates to run for RTM and the Democrats could only find 45. Why not go to 40 members?

With the gridlock early on, one of the Democrats proposed a compromise of a nine-district plan. The Republicans developed a nine-district map. At a subsequent meeting, the Democrats reconsidered and refused to compromise.

At that time, several months ago, I reached out to First Selectman Michael Tetreau to discuss the gridlock situation. I encouraged the first selectman to get involved and help forge a compromise. I asked him to reach out to the members on his side of the aisle at the very least. State Rep. Brenda Kupchick did the same. Neither Brenda nor I heard back from him and he remained silent. In fact, he did not rise to make any comments at the final RTM as the moderator presented his case for having the RTM vote on a plan.

Approximately four months ago, realizing that the gridlock still persisted and a June 1 deadline set forth by the state to complete the redistricting was fast approaching, I contacted Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ellery Plotkin. We discussed the gridlock and the fact that I had reached out to  Tetreau with no response. He shared my concerns and the need to find a compromise. I suggested that we try to intervene on both sides of the aisle. He stated he was going to talk to his members and I never heard back from him until after the RTM vote.

The Republican leadership on the RTM, led by Joe Palmer, Ed Bateson and Jeff Steele, were highly concerned that the RTM redistricting committee was hopelessly gridlocked. In an attempt to try to reach a resolution, the RTM Republicans swapped members of the redistricting team and put Ed Bateson on the committee. Mr. Bateson revealed that there was no compromise in sight.

RTM moderator Jeff Steele went through great lengths to research what alternatives the RTM could take to reach a compromise before the June 1 deadline. He ordered the committee to meet again to forge a compromise.  There would be no compromise. As a result, Steele asked that the Republicans and Democrats bring forth both of their proposed redistricting plans.

Steele believed that if both plans were brought forth they could be discussed, debated, amended and a final compromise could be hashed out on the floor of the RTM by all the elected members. This plan allowed both sides a reasonable opportunity to present their case and all 50 RTM members would have a say in the ultimate plan. However, the Democrats refused to put forth their plan and the only plan to make it to the floor was the Republican plan.

Steele did everything he could to try to put the town’s redistricting into compliance. Unfortunately, we are now completely out of compliance with the state requirements with some districts having more than a 10% deviation between parties and 21 split districts.

I think you would be hard pressed to find any RTM member to step forward and say that Steele acted with ill intent. He is widely respected by members of both sides of the aisle for his transparent and fair approach to governing.

At the end of the day, there are just over 10,000 Republicans and Democrats in town with just 400 more Republicans. The vast majority in town is unaffiliated voters with just over 15,000. There is little to any room for any gerrymandering. In fact, the state statute requires there be no more than a 10% deviation between party affiliations in any district to prevent gerrymandering.

We need our leadership to rise above the fray. We need to set the example for compromise and we need to stop all this nonsense and name-calling. I have reached out to Plotkin in order to move forward and set a plan for compromise. Leadership from both parties on all levels needs to open lines of communication, work together to forge compromise and get this redistricting done without wasting any more time or taxpayer money.

 

James Millington

Chairman

Fairfield Republican Town Committee

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