As rumored, the Reapportionment Commission has changed the way Wilton will vote for its representation in the State House of Representatives, creating a new, Wilton-centered district that separates the town from Norwalk.
In addition, the new district — number 42 — now includes portions of neighboring New Canaan and Ridgefield.
The new lines that have been drawn mean that both of Wilton’s current state representatives will no longer be able to represent the town. Norwalk resident Rep. Stephanie Thomas (D-143) will see Wilton shaved from her district and Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125) of New Canaan not only will lose a portion of Wilton from his district but will cede a portion of New Canaan to the new 42nd District.
The change will be in place at the next statewide election in Nov. 2022.
Several Wilton residents testified during the Public Hearings held by the Commission in September, all in favor of separating Norwalk and Wilton. The eight-person commission — made up of two Democrats and two Republicans from each legislative chamber — factored in public input, as well as population shifts, community demographics, and keeping incumbents in their own districts.
The effort to change the district from within Wilton was something Rep. Thomas found curious. She emailed a comment about the redistricting change to her district late Thursday:
“When the other side of the aisle coordinated a couple of dozen people to testify at the redistricting public hearing, it seemed a tactical mistake and reminded me why so many people avoid politics. The group testified that the same person couldn’t possibly represent the diverse 143rd District, although that is exactly what has been done for over a decade. This tactic seemed penny wise for a few, but pound foolish for the majority who voted otherwise. During my first term in office, I have heard from many constituents who are pleasantly surprised at my responsiveness and willingness to listen to all. I have also had the opportunity to bring Wilton’s viewpoint to the attention of my colleagues in Hartford and influence conversations among the majority. Regardless of district lines, I am committed to public service and will always be just an email away if you are in need.”
[Editor’s note: Friday, Nov. 19, 7 a.m. — GMW has also reached out to Rep. O’Dea and will update the article accordingly.]
UPDATE: Friday, Nov. 19, 9:30 a.m. — O’Dea emailed his comment: “I worked very hard to get Wilton its own seat and am very happy that happened. That said I will miss representing Wilton immensely and so it is bittersweet.”
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice sees the new district benefiting Wilton because it aligns the town with other communities that are already partners. Plus, she said, it’s more likely that Wilton will be represented by a Wilton resident.
“During my six years as first selectwoman, I have been a member of the Western CT Council of Government (WestCOG), a statutory agency comprised of the CEOs of the 18 communities in Western CT from Greenwich to Westport to north of Danbury. The level of involvement by city mayors and small-town first selectpersons has been very different. Small-town first selectpersons, like myself, have assumed leadership positions within the organization as we need the collaboration with our fellow small-town leaders and the resource support WestCOG offers. City mayors, with far greater resources and greater access to state government and state funding, don’t require collaboration.
“My WestCOG experience has proven the value of Wilton being in a district with New Canaan and Ridgefield, with whom we already collaborate and share concerns about the impact of state initiatives on our communities.
“Over the last year, I have enjoyed getting to know and working with Rep. Stephanie Thomas. She has always been willing to listen and engage with Wilton’s department heads and me. I also worked for many years with former Rep. Gail Lavielle. She served her entire district extremely well, but by virtue of her living in Wilton, she engaged on a daily basis with Wilton residents either as our representative, as a citizen or both. Having our representative in our community every day is a big benefit.”
Wilton Republican Town Committee (RTC) Chair Peter Wrampe was one of the several residents who testified in support of separating Wilton and Norwalk during the public hearings. He provided a statement on behalf of the RTC:
“We are pleased that the Reapportionment Commission saw fit to provide Wilton a district of its own as requested by many Wiltonians during their testimony on redistricting.”
Wilton Democratic Town Committee (DTC) Chair Tom Dubin said that rather than amplify Wilton’s voice, the redistricting will actually reduce Wilton’s presence in the House, going from two Representatives to one.
“This is a shame, as having two members increases Wilton’s voice on legislation. I scratch my head why Wilton’s Republican Town Committee worked to accomplish this. Shouldn’t we want two Hartford votes, for example, when infrastructure grants are being made? For eight out of the last 10 years we have been represented by two Republicans in the House, and last year one of those seats flipped to Democrat Stephanie Thomas. Rep. Thomas has been an essential moderate voice for Wilton, determined to support local control of local matters. The fact that she is a member of the Democratic caucus gave her particular power to push back on recent legislation regarding zoning changes. The reality is that Wilton is a town of only 18,000 people; having two Representatives let us hit above our weight, especially when each can bring the political strength of surrounding towns to their advocacy. Our new single district appears designed to favor Republicans. That’s OK given that balance for the entire state needs to be considered. But Wilton would have been better off retaining two voices, two votes.”
Redistricting occurs every 10 years, as required by federal law. Each state legislature must approve new maps for its state House, state Senate, and U.S. congressional districts, based on population changes as recorded in the U.S. Census every 10 years.
The House map was the first one completed by the Commission. The deadline to finish the two other maps is Nov. 30.
I don’t know that this is the coup that Republicans seem to think it is; in 2020 both Haskell and Thomas won the Wilton portions of their districts handily. Even in the last midterm in 2018 the Republicans only won by like 52-48 (and Wilton has gotten a lot bluer since then + is likely to shift quite a bit further over the next decade). It might go R in 2022 but it seems likely to be reliably D by the end of the decade.
I also kind of wonder whether the new map is something of an effort to create a “derp derp HANDS OFF OUR SCHOOLS derp derp” vote sink; if you want to reduce the number of representatives who’ll spew hellfire and brimstone over the possibility of regionalization / “mansion taxes” / etc, this map would seem to help move things in that direction. Will be interesting to see if there’s a version of this with the State Senate map as well.
(personally, given the uniquely toxic attitude that Wilton brought to those discussions in 2019, I kind of think it’s not the worst thing for the state if our influence is confined to one shouting Republican assembly member instead of the two we had then, and as a resident of O’Dea’s district lumped in with a bunch of reliably troglodytic New Canaanites I never felt that my vote mattered much at the state assembly level anyway)
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