In 2020, Cheshire Democrat Jim Jinks lost a nail-biter race against Wallingford Republican Craig Fishbein for the 90th House district.
After initial reports called Jinks the winner, a tabulation error led to a recount revealing Fishbein had actually won by seven votes.
There won’t be a rematch.
The state’s bipartisan Reapportionment Commission approved changes this past fall that eliminated Cheshire from the 90th district and added Republican-friendly Middlefield.
“I assume they wanted to get as far away from me as possible,”Jinks said Friday about the 90th district shifting east. “I guess I’ll take that as a compliment.”
The new maps, approved in November by the state’s Reapportionment Commission, will go into effect with this November’s state election.
While state Senate lines will see relatively few changes, House district shifted considerably.
Cheshire Democratic Town Chairwoman Courtney Cullinan had harsher criticism for the 90th district shift, calling it “blatantly political” and “egregious,” in an interview with The Connecticut Mirror.
Fishbein said he was pleased to learn he would be representing Middlefield, citing personal connections to the area.
“The possibility of representing Middlefield is especially heartwarming for me,” Fishbein said. “Until their passing, my maternal grandparents lived there for many years, and my family runs a factory in town. I used to work there during summers from college. Through them, I have been a part of Middlefield for decades.”
But while the changes in the 90th may benefit Republicans, other redistricting changes arguably benefit Democrats.
Middlefield is currently in the 82nd district, held by Democratic state Rep. Michael Quinn of Meriden. By putting Middlefield into the 90th beginning this fall, the new maps pushed the 82nd district westward, making it a Meriden-only district, likely helping Quinn and the Democrats. Meriden tends to vote for Democrats, and the 82nd district candidate doesn’t have to face an out-of-town challenger or court out-of-town voters.
“Any time a district is comprised of only one community it makes it slightly easier to run for both incumbents and challengers,” Quinn said in an email. “In the 2020 race, I was better known in Meriden because that is where I am from and my opponent was better known in Middlefield and Rockfall because that is where he is from.” Rockfall is a village within Middlefield.
In the 2022 race, all candidates in the 82nd will be from the same city, so name recognition becomes slightly less of a factor in theory, Quinn said. Prison population
The 10-year reapportionment is based on the 2020 census, which saw population gains in some areas and losses in others. It also reflected a federal law stipulating that prisoners were to be counted in the census as residents of their last known address, not as residents in the towns that house the prison.
Counting inmates as residents of the towns where they are incarcerated inflates population data for those municipalities, while decreasing the population of other municipalities and having a negative impact on their legislative and municipal voting districts, according to a statement from Gov. Ned Lamont’s office in May 2021 when he signed legislation allowing the change.
Cheshire is home to the Cheshire Correctional Institution, among other Department of Correction facilities.
Removing the prison population decreased the population of Cheshire’s 103rd district, represented by Democrat Liz Linehan, by about 1,300 residents.
As of the 2020 Census, Connecticut state representatives represented an average of 23,880 residents. Reapportionment shifted the lines of the 103rd to the south. The district will now include more of Cheshire and part of Hamden, in addition to part of Wallingford. It loses a portion of Southington.
“The districts are drawn to have a certain number of constituents. So having the prison out of that calculation, the numbers were made up elsewhere,” Linehan said. “I'm very happy that I received more of Cheshire, and a part of Hamden, but I cannot say whether or not the laws applying to prison gerrymandering had any effect on that. Had this been passed and gone into effect in a non-redistricting year, that answer would have been different.”
Linehan said moving the 90th out of Cheshire was interesting, but she wasn’t surprised.
“Cheshire did not lose overall representation, as a portion of town now includes part of the 83rd. The number of representatives stays the same,” she said.
Shifting Fishbein’s district to the east also didn’t surprise Democrat Mary Mushinsky who represents Wallingford’s 85th district.
“They might have wanted to protect (Fishbein) from Cheshire,” Mushinsky said about the change. “I do think it helped him to not have Cheshire.”
Cheshire’s northeastern portion will now be part of the 83rd district, which also include parts of Meriden and Berlin. It is currently represented by Democat Catherine Abercrombie, who has announced she is not running for re-election in November.
Fishbein’s 90th district also picked up part of Wallingford formerly represented by Republican Rep. Vincent Candelora in the 86th district.
“I knew my district was going to get affected when the legislature agreed to take the prisons out of the districts,” Fishbein said. “A portion of Liz Linehan’s district (the 103rd), I knew those individuals would come out of her district and probably affect mine.”
Fishbein’s Democratic opponent Rebecca Hyland of Wallingford said, despite appearing to be a gift to Republicans, the change in the 90th district presents an opportunity to reach new voters. Hyland announced her candidacy last week.
“A large portion of Middlefield is unaffiliated,” Hyland said. “Middlefield is a smaller town. There are fewer people to reach out to, but we can make some inroads. People are getting tired of the nastiness and want to know how we’re going to solve some of these problems.”
Mushinsky’s all-Wallingford 85th lost population and shifted northwest to pick up more densely populated areas of town. In exchange, the district lost some constituents on the eastern side of I-91. Bipartisan
The state’s redistricting process involves a bipartisan commission. Other states have had redistricting settled by the courts and some allow the governing party in the legislature to draw the maps.
“That is my least favorite,” Mushinsky said. “Ours is equally represented. The other party has veto power, while still trying to fit the character of the district.”
Linehan was pleased to pick up more of Cheshire, she said, including the second and fourth Town Council districts. Linehan said the inclusion of Hamden and shift out of Southington brings the 103rd ”much closer to the way the 103rd district was drawn prior to the 2010 redistricting.”
Republican state Rep. Lezlye Zupkus represents the 89th district which covers western Cheshire and Prospect and Bethany.
Candelora, who serves as House minority leader, was a member of the Reapportionment Commission.
“We’re trying to keep all the important principles intact, as you know, respecting the integrity of towns and the demographic makeup of the communities, as well as where the incumbents are located,” Candelora told The Connecticut Mirror.
Reporter Mary Ellen Godin can be reached at email@example.com.