AUGUSTA (AP) – Although Maine’s commission for redrawing the state’s political boundaries expired last week after breaking down along party lines, there is a new round of discussions going on behind the scenes.

Democratic and Republican leaders of the state Senate have been conferring to see if they can still strike a deal before the matter moves to the Maine supreme court.

Before its deadline for action passed last Thursday, the apportionment panel agreed on the shape of 151 new state House of Representatives districts. But members failed to agree on how to remap 35 state Senate districts and the two congressional districts.

The commission’s divided recommendations are due to go before the full Legislature, and House and Senate majorities of two-thirds would be needed for approval.

Without some further evidence of bipartisan acceptance, such super majorities are deemed highly unlikely.

“There are still talks going on,” said Senate Majority Leader Sharon Treat, D-Farmingdale.

“The commission was extremely close to something that was agreed upon.”

Senate Minority Leader Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, put the chances for success at “50-50.”

Davis suggested that the renewed effort to achieve an accord would be concluded one way or another by early next week.

“Still negotiating, … with the idea of getting something through,” he said.

In last week’s commission voting, neutral chairman Donald Zillman sided with the Democratic contingent on its congressional district proposal, which would move Waterville from the 1st into the 2nd Congressional District.

The Republican plan would fashion a new 1st District along a north-south axis.

Saying he found merit in both, Zillman abstained from expressing a preference on competing state Senate plans, leaving the panel evenly divided.

The Democratic state Senate plan would more equally apportion population among districts overall, while the Republican plan would divide fewer smaller towns.

“If it breaks down, it breaks down,” Treat said, “but we’re no worse off than if we hadn’t had the discussion.”

If lawmakers can eliminate or minimize the need for the law court to get involved, Treat said, “we’d just as soon do that.”

Ten years ago, the redistricting task was given to the court but 20 years ago the House and Senate approved a redistricting package themselves.

Data from the 2000 census showed that communities across southern Maine grew during the 1990s while population in the north kept dwindling.

Points of contention between the two sides have included state Senate districts in York County and across parts of central Maine.

In recent years, the partisan campaigns for control of the state Senate have been extremely competitive.

The 2000 elections produced a 17-17-1 deadlock. Democrats currently hold the thinnest possible Senate majority, 18-17.

AP-ES-04-08-03 1555EDT



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