Hey, Let’s Have Some Fun With the Chittenden Senate District! (Updated)

Interim Update: I’ve been told that Sen. Kesha Ram has moved to Shelburne. If so, that dramatically changes my calculus. I’d consulted her legislative webpage, which lists her residence as in Burlington. I’m pursuing confirmation, and will rewrite that section if need be.

Update Update: Sen. Ram confirms she has moved out of Burlington. That changes things quite a bit; I’m writing an amended post instead of trying to change this one.

Thanks to a law adopted in 2019, the state will have make some major changes to the Chittenden County district during the reapportionment process. The law sets a maximum of three lawmakers in multi-member districts, and Chittenden currently has a ridiculous six at-large seats. It’ll have to be split in half, at minimum. Since the Senate itself has the final say, I expect the new boundaries will give all six Chittenden incumbents a smooth path to re-election. Which probably means the new boundaries won’t be the best possible ones.

Also, sensible boundaries would make it possible for Republicans to pick off a seat or two. Now, Vermont Dems don’t abuse their redistricting power nearly as much as Republican majorities in other states, but I bet they want to keep Vermont’s biggest county to themselves. One factor will make it easier to protect incumbents: The Chittenden district will almost certainly acquire a seventh seat. Either that, or more of Chittenden County will have to be moved to non-Chittenden districts, as is already the case for Colchester.

By; sheer population, Chittenden County should have 7 1/2 Senate seats. I expect the most likely outcome is that it will get a seventh seat, and Colchester will continue to round out the Grand Isle district. (If any incumbent’s going to be protected, it’s Dick Mazza.) And then the bloodletting will commence; maybe the Northeast Kingdom will lose a seat. Could the newest and most conservative of senators, Russ Ingalls, get the shaft?

So let’s do some irresponsible speculating re: the Chittenden district, on the assumption that it gets a seventh seat. We’ll try to keep communities intact while distributing the population evenly.

Burlington’s population warrants two Senate seats. Oh, wouldn’t that be delicious. Whether that’s two districts or one with two members, the city would lose an incumbent Senator. (Baruth, Pearson, Ram.) South Burlington is around 20K, so that’s a pretty good fit for one seat. Lookin’ forward to that Mike Sirotkin/Thomas Chittenden primary.

Now we’re getting to the fun part. Essex, at 22,000, deserves a seat of its own. (Giambatista comeback?) We’ve now accounted for four of the seven seats.

The eastern and southern towns get lumped together in a single-seat district. That includes Shelburne, Charlotte, Huntington (repatriated from Addison), WIlliston, Jericho and Richmond, among others.

The northern ‘burbs are a sticky wicket. If you bring Colchester back into the fold, the combined population of Colchester, Winooski and Milton is 34,000, too few for two seats but too many for one. The simple solution, if not for Dick Mazza, would be to rope in the Champlain Islands and another small community or two (Westford, Underhill?) and create a two-person district. This idea ignores partisan concerns; that kind of district would be promising territory for Republicans, and Winooski would be a progressive outlier in a very moderate district.

Ideologically, the ‘Noosk would fit better with Burlington. That would bring the district’s population to about 52,000, still not enough to warrant three seats. If you split Colchester in two, then you’d bring the Greater Burlington district up to the 60,000 population range, enough for three seats. That’d be an easy way to solve the Baruth/Pearson/Ram problem. The Milton etc. district would be left with a single seat. (Don Turner comeback?)

I’d rather keep communities intact as much as possible, although you have to do a split or two to get the populations right. I would not like to see the idea floated by Tim Ashe a couple years ago. He proposed turning the district into an imaginary pie and slicing it up from Burlington outward. He argued that each of those districts would include a broad array of communities and thus be more reflective of Vermont as a whole.

The hell with that. The pie concept would allow Burlington to retain outsized influence. That’d be good for Democrats and Progressives, but not for democracy.

Again, this is off-the-cuff calculation without all the tools at the disposal of those actually doing the reapportionment. And this is limited to Chittenden County; the Powers That Be have to consider the whole shebang.

Also, well, there’s the fact that my sage advice is sure to be ignored. But hey, what’s a blogger to do?

3 thoughts on “Hey, Let’s Have Some Fun With the Chittenden Senate District! (Updated)

  1. Robin Scheu

    John,

    Charlotte has not been part of the Addison County Senate district for years, if ever. For the past 10 years it’s been Huntington and Buel’s Gore and before that it was Brandon.

    Robin

    Robin Scheu Middlebury, Vermont

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Reply
    1. John S. Walters Post author

      From JW: This is not a reply to Rep. Scheu’s post. It’s a note from Secretary of State Jim Condos, who said he couldn’t get it to post. No idea why. Since I’m logged in to the site, I can’t actually post a comment, but I can post it as a Reply to another comment. That’s what I’m doing here. Confused?

      From this point on, these are Sec. Condos’ words.

      It is important to remember the makeup and roles of House and Senate members.
      All are dependent on population but provide different socio-economic perspective.

      House members typically represent a town or several towns and thus are more parochial.
      Whereas Senate members are more global representing a county and thus different backgrounds of the many towns within a county.

      The Senate proposal you put forth extends the House parochial aspect by setting aside specific cities/towns for separate representation.

      Former Pro-Tem Tim Ashe actually is on the right track to try and make the split more global and in line with the original formation of the Senate around 1836.

      See VT Constitution, Chapter II, Section 18…
      “In establishing senatorial districts, which shall afford equality of representation, the General Assembly shall seek to maintain geographical compactness and contiguity and to adhere to boundaries of counties and other existing political subdivisions.”

      Reply

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