Plan Logical, Rational
New Representative Seats
Editor's Note: Rep. Ewing submitted this commentary on the Delaware House of Representatives re-districting proposal to add four representative seats.
Some people have been chastising the General Assembly for its work on the federally mandated process of re-drawing its legislative districts. However, many of these critical comments have been based on inaccurate information. I hope the following comments shed some light on this issue.
Under federal law, legislative districts at every level of government must be redrawn every 10-years to reflect population shifts revealed by the U.S. Census. The State House of Representatives took up this task last April as soon as the Census Bureau released data detailed enough to begin the process.
The state's population has grown nearly 18-percent since 1990. Today, 117,432 people call the First State home who were not here ten years ago. In response to this explosive growth, and recognizing that the House has not added seats since the Nixon administration, our leadership proposed expanding membership from 41 to 45.
This proposal is logical and rational, creating four new districts in the areas of the state that have had the most growth over the past decade: southern New Castle County, the Bear area, the Georgetown area and coastal Sussex County. Adding House members will keep districts manageable, helping representatives maintain their close ties to their communities.
The House plan is especially relevant to Sussex County. Approximately 43,000 people have moved to Sussex in the last 10 years -- a whopping 38-percent increase! That growth is likely to continue through the next decade as evidenced by a long list of housing developments that are planned for the county. Americana Bayside alone will add 1,700 homes. The House's 45-seat plan ensures that Sussex County will get the representation it warrants, now and for the next 10-years.
Keep in mind that even at 45 seats the average size of a House district will still rise by nearly 1,200 people. The House plan will only slow the growth of representative districts, not reverse the trend. In 1990, the average district had 16,248 constituents. With 45 seats, the average size of the new House districts will be 17,413 constituents.
Consider, too, that the state's population has grown by 43-percent since the last time the House expanded its membership in 1971, when the average district size was 4,000 people smaller than it would be under our current proposal.
Lawmakers that are close to the people and the communities they serve are at the heart of our representative form of government. In few other places in this nation can you call your state representative at home, stop to talk to them at the store or chat over coffee at a local diner. That accessibility is a special part of our Delaware heritage and something that House members believe is worth preserving.
An analysis by the non-partisan Office of the Controller General states the total annual cost of the four additional representatives would be $235,111 -- about one one-hundredth of one-percent of the state's current operating budget. While any additional expenditure should be closely scrutinized, especially in our current tight budgetary climate, both Democrats and Republicans feel this relatively modest cost is prudent and justified.
There has been much confusion over the issue of the residency requirement. Article 2, Section 3 of the Delaware State Constitution calls for candidates for the State House or Senate to have one year of residency in their districts prior to the election. However, this is a question of how long you have lived in a given place, not of 'when' new district lines have been enacted. For example, if you have lived in Greenwood since 1992 then regardless of when the district containing your home is approved, you have been a resident for nine years. As is often the case in legal matters, this is a subtle but important distinction.
In conclusion, I believe the House's actions have been in the best interests of all Delawareans and have been conducted in a fair and unbiased manner. We sought public input at the start of the process and held a public hearing to gather input on the finished plan. Majority Republicans reached out to minority Democrats to shape a plan that has drawn a broad base of bipartisan support. We hired specialists to ensure all legal requirements connected to the complicated redistricting process were followed. Finally, we came back into special session November 1 and overwhelmingly passed our plan by a vote of 32 to 9.
I believe this effort has produced a balanced plan that is in keeping with our long history of common sense decision-making and good representative government.
Sussex County Online Copyright © 1999-2001 Sussex County Online