Commentary: Redistricting Could Shake Up Mass. Politics

Published December 21, 2010

New U.S. Census data show Massachusetts isn’t growing as fast as other states. That means the state will lose a congressional seat in the next election. Democratic commentator Dan Payne offers his analysis.


Redistricting is usually a matter of seniority: Those with the least get hurt; those with the most get what they want.

Normally, that would put newly elected Rep. Bill Keating and recently elected Rep. Niki Tsongas on the low end of the totem pole. But this year there are other factors. The possible retirement of Rep. Barney Frank and the Senate candidacies of Reps. Mike Capuano and Stephen Lynch could affect the map. Also, the plans of legislators who might want to run if any of the three don’t run for re-election can shape the outlines of districts.

[pullquote]This is very serious stuff, and it often pits D.C. Democrats against Beacon Hill Democrats.[/pullquote]

As dean of the delegation, Rep. Ed Markey will look out for the interests of incumbent members and will attempt to influence the mapmakers on Beacon Hill. The idea is to create districts where there are enough Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents to assure that a Democrat has an excellent chance to win. The 10th Congressional District needs Democrats and that means going west or north. The 5th needs more liberal towns, which are to the south.

The last time redistricting was a major factor was in 1982, when a newly elected Frank was intentionally put in a district that had elected Rep. Margaret Heckler for eight terms — it was designed by the Legislature to punish Frank for his less than admiring views of the Great and General Court. Frank defied the Legislature, the Pope and Heckler to put off a miraculous win.

As a longtime watcher and resident of the 4th district, I think an interesting subplot in redistricting is what happens to Newton and Brookline — with Cambridge, they form the core of liberal Massachusetts. If Frank decides to retire, will they be kept together, and who will get them? Also, Capuano’s 8th district has a ton of Democrats with Boston, Cambridge and Somerville. If he runs for Sen. Scott Brown’s seat, where do they go? Ditto for Lynch.

This is very serious stuff, and it often pits D.C. Democrats against Beacon Hill Democrats. As they say in politics, where you stand depends on where you sit.

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