BY SCOTT MONROE

Staff Writer

Waterville and Winslow will switch from the 2nd Congressional District to the 1st under a compromise plan overwhelmingly approved this week by Republicans and Democrats.

Some local officials are raising concerns that the communities may lose constituent influence and a federal congressional office. U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, has had an office in downtown Waterville since 2005.

“I think Waterville got thrown under the bus in this redistricting plan,” said Karen Heck, an unenrolled candidate for Waterville mayor and a senior program officer for the Augusta-based Bingham Program.

Waterville’s two state representatives, Democrats Henry Beck and Thomas Longstaff, were two of the three lawmakers who voted against the plan. State Rep. James Parker, R-Veazie, was the other one.

“Unfortunately, I think Waterville and Winslow became the sacrificial lambs,” Longstaff said. “Where we ended up was probably the best compromise we could get. But I think we will feel the difference.”

The changes also move 11 Kennebec County communities from the 1st Congressional District to the 2nd.

Affected communities will see the district changes on the 2012 election ballot and then will be represented by their new members of Congress the following January. That means Waterville and Winslow will vote for a 1st District candidate next year and will be represented by Michaud until early 2013.

Waterville and Winslow have been here before — the communities were switched in 2004 from the 1st District to the 2nd as part of a redistricting plan.

For Longstaff and others, a key concern now is whether the 1st District representative would also maintain a federal office in the greater Waterville area in place of Michaud’s office. The only Maine office for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, is in Portland.

Willy Ritch, a Pingree spokesman, said she must win re-election next year before even considering a Waterville area office.

“It’s a long ways off in the future, so we don’t really have a comment on it,” Ritch said. “Mike (Michaud) is still the member of Congress for Waterville for almost the next year and a half. In between now and then there is an election, so I think it would be very premature to think what congresswoman Pingree might do in Waterville, if she’s lucky enough to be re-elected.”

Michaud also has federal offices in Lewiston, Bangor and Presque Isle, that offer constituent assistance with matters such as Social Security and veterans benefits and also aim to connect municipal and business officials with federal resources, according to Ed Gilman, a Michaud spokesman. The Waterville office, which recently relocated a short distance to 108 Main St., is staffed by two employees and typically an intern, Gilman said.

“We will be looking at this in the months ahead, but the Waterville area is still in our district and we’ll continue to do the work we’ve been doing all along,” Gilman said.

Ritch pointed to federal budget constraints that may make opening another office tough. The budget to operate the congressional office was recently reduced by 13 percent, which is “on the order of a couple hundred-thousand dollars,” he said.

Beck, the Waterville representative, said he is concerned about losing a federal congressional district office because it provides services to thousands of residents. Although he criticized the plan as only being “discussed in the hallways” and not getting enough public discussion before passage, Beck said he setting his concerns aside and focused on the future.

“I remind myself that Waterville for many decades was in the 1st District, so life will go on,” Beck said. “We’ll be as important as we make ourselves.”

Longstaff, though, thinks Waterville’s new district location — at the very northern tip of the 1st District — will make the city “a very distant third cousin twice removed,” in comparison to Portland and other cities in the southern part of the state.

Heck, the mayoral candidate, said not opening a new office in Waterville would be a mistake.

“Waterville is a city with a lot of energy and growth potential,” she said.

Waterville Mayor Dana Sennett, a Democrat who is seeking re-election, said he wasn’t familiar enough with the redistricting plan to offer comment.

The third candidate for mayor, Republican Andrew Roy, said he didn’t think the switch would have much of an impact on Waterville.

“I know change itself is always difficult for people to accept, but the Waterville city itself needs a lot of change. I don’t think it will hurt us,” Roy said. “It’s a matter of accepting it and dealing with it.”

State Rep. Susan Morissette, R-Winslow, said she thinks constituents will still be served well in the 1st District and she’s hopeful an office will remain in the area.

“I’m sure we as a state have proven we’re not Washington, D.C., and we can work together,” Morissette said. “I know all people who represent Maine are very concerned with making sure peoples’ voices are heard.”

Scott Monroe — 861-9239

[email protected]


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