They've barely just begun, but some members of the state Legislature's commission to redraw Maine's two U.S. congressional districts are already playing partisan games.
That's discouraging but not unexpected.
Rather than following the clear guidance of U.S. and state courts, Republicans came out of the gate with a controversial proposal that drastically reorganizes how residents of Franklin, Oxford and Androscoggin counties would be represented in Congress.
Their proposal splits communities with similar industries, demographics and interests and lumps them in with communities of diverging interests while switching the congressional districts for nearly 360,000 Maine voters.
The Democratic plan pushes only 4,000 voters into a new district in one community in a county, Kennebec, that is already divided between congressional districts.
It is the least disruptive of the two plans and models closely the congressional redistricting plan enacted by the Maine supreme court in 2003.
It sets up two districts with nearly equal populations — with a difference of 11 voters between the two and keeps communities with similar interests together under the representation of a single lawmaker.
The Republican plan would create mathematically equal districts, but it would go through geographic and cultural gyrations to do so.
Under the GOP plan, geographically based industries, such as shipbuilding and papermaking, would lose the singular focus of one representative devoted to their cause. Instead of developing expertise in a particular field of business or industry, our congressional representatives would be torn between the competing interests of different industries in divergent geographical regions.
Since statehood, the tri-county region of Franklin, Oxford and Androscoggin have shared cultural and economic bonds. Little has changed. We are also far more connected culturally to the Franco-centric communities of northern Maine than we are to our cosmopolitan cousins in Cumberland and York counties.
Democrats on the panel are rightly charging Republicans with attempting to gerrymander the new districts and Republican justifications for pushing incumbent U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from her current district, ring hollow.
Panel member and state Sen. Debra Plowman, a Hampden Republican, said her GOP colleagues were blind to the political implications of their plan, which would place the homes of both incumbents into the 2nd District.
Really? We find that hard to believe and doubt that in this highly charged partisan atmosphere that starting with such an extreme proposal will allow this panel to have any better of a chance at finding an acceptable compromise than its predecessor had eight years ago.
That doesn't mean this new commission shouldn't try, but no one should be surprised if whatever plan emerges does not garner the two-thirds margin it needs to pass the full Legislature.
In 2003, a similar bipartisan panel was unable to reach agreement on new lines for both U.S. congressional districts and Maine State Senate districts.
While that panel did agree on a plan to rearrange Maine's House districts, it was, ultimately, the state's supreme court that redrew the lines for the state Senate and U.S. House districts in the current fashion.
The court did so in a way that seemed to satisfy partisans at the time, even though they really had no choice in the matter.
We appreciate the sentiments of the current commission's independent and non-partisan chairman, Mike Friedman, a Bangor attorney.
Friedman said he's optimistic an acceptable bi-partisan plan can be crafted by the Aug. 31 deadline.
"This is not an impossible task," he said.
We hope he's right but realize it's harder to get back to the middle when your starting point is the partisan fringe.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.