IN THE ARENA *11/26/2010 District map makeover Where will redistricting draw the lines? The holiday season may be officially under way, but for political junkies, the real party is going to happen early next year, when the Massachusetts Legislature embarks on the highly charged process known as redistricting.

The Recorder
November 26, 2010

And one of the people who will be right in the middle of it as the chair of the Legislature's Redistricting Committee, is Franklin-Hampshire state Sen. Stan Rosenberg.

"There are a lot of people who are going to be watching this process very closely," Rosenberg said. "And I think people all across the state are worried because we are almost certain to lose a seat in Congress."

The process of redrawing congressional and legislative districts will be driven largely by the 2010 Census count, and though the official numbers won't be released for a few months, the indications are that Massachusetts lost population in Berkshire County and other parts of the western region and just enough statewide to all but guarantee that we will go from 10 congressional districts to nine.

"I think it will take a miracle for us not to lose a seat, and that sets up some interesting potential scenarios," Rosenberg said. "We could see some congressmen pitted against one another, but there is also the possibility of retirements or others running for the Senate in 2010.

The big question for western Massachusetts is whether we will go from two big congressional districts to one really huge one represented by either John Olver or Richie Neal, assuming neither decides to retire.

But exactly what that district will look like is anybody's guess, according to Rosenberg.

"I know there will be a lot of pressure to change the configuration of western Mass. from an east-west to a north-south district," Rosenberg said.

That creates a potentially dangerous scenario for rural towns in the upper valley, which could run the risk of being lumped in with Springfield, the commonwealth's third largest city and the area that will likely dominate the attention of a single western congressman, assuming they have any interest in getting re-elected.

"That's a perfectly reasonable analysis and there are people who are already concerned about the idea of lumping a city that size in with a lot of communities under 30,000," Rosenberg said. "But that's just one scenario. There are some people who say that it doesn't make sense to have four congressmen representing Boston and we should reconfigure that."

And that brings us to the big question about this process: How many of these decisions will be based on the numbers and how many will be based on political clout and arm-twisting?

"Politics will definitely factor into it, but we'll have a better idea when the official numbers come in this spring," Rosenberg said. "I think we first need to find out what makes sense logistically for the entire state, and then figure out the political implications later."

Rosenberg said one thing he is sure of is that technology will play a much bigger role in this process than probably ever before.

"We're not going to be doing everything on index cards like previous years, that's for sure," Rosenberg said. "We are going to be able to use computer technology to look more deeply at demographic information and for commonality between districts and individual communities."

But all of the technology in the world won't defuse the politics of a process that has the potential to make the casino debate seem like a walk in the park.

"I'm not sure how it's all going to shake out, but it's going to be a real show," Rosenberg added.

Hopefully, it's one where the western region doesn't wind up just being a bit player.

Chris Collins is the director of news and programming for WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder and a Greenfield native.