Patrick signs redistricting bill

Republican, The (Springfield, MA) - Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Author: DAN RING, STAFF: The Republican (Springfield, MA) 

BOSTON - Gov. Deval L. Patrick signed a congressional redistricting bill Monday that abolishes one of the districts headquartered in Western Massachusetts and creates a new district near Boston composed mostly of minority voters. 

Patrick signed the bill in his office, while flanked by House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, D-Boston, and Rep. Michael J. Moran, D-Boston, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Redistricting. 

"The districts adhere to constitutional guidelines and were created through an open and transparent process," Patrick said in a statement after the low-key bill signing. "Most importantly, these new districts are regionally balanced and reflect the Commonwealth's diversity." 

The new map, approved last week by the state Legislature, includes nine congressional seats, down from the current 10. The state lost one of its seats because of faster population growth in the South and West documented in the 2010 census. 

The map carves up the existing 107-community district of U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, an Amherst Democrat who has announced he will not seek re-election. 

Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, a member of the Redistricting Committee, said legislators knew it would be very difficult to maintain two congressional districts based in Western Massachusetts. The Redistricting Committee heard much testimony on the need for keeping two districts in Western Massachusetts, but it was an uphill struggle, given population losses in the region, he said. 

"Ultimately, the numbers just didn't add up," Kulik said. "It just wasn't going to work." 

Kulik said the new map is "logical and fair" in dividing up Western Massachusetts. 

Kulik said the nine districts in the state "make good sense from a geographic and demographic perspective." 

The map was drawn shortly after Olver said on Oct. 26 he would retire when his term ends next year. Moran has said it became easier to draw a new map after Olver became the only incumbent U.S. House member from Massachusetts to say he would not seek re-election, freeing legislators to dismantle his district. 

Olver's district, currently about 645,000 people, was basically divided between the districts of U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, a Springfield Democrat, and U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, a Worcester Democrat. 

Because of the loss of a seat, each congressional district needed to expand to include about 727,000 people. 

Also, U.S. Rep. Nicola S. Tsongas, a Lowell Democrat, picked up about 120,000 people now in Olver's district including the cities of Gardner and Fitchburg in central Massachusetts. 

Under the new map, there are two districts west of Worcester. Currently, three districts are west of Worcester, including two based in Western Massachusetts. 

The map includes a new minority-majority district near Boston and a new district that includes Cape Cod and New Bedford. 

The map divides Palmer, splitting off one precinct in the north-central part of the town. The single precinct went into the district now represented by McGovern. 

Paul E. Burns, president of the Palmer Town Council, said he would make it a point to invite McGovern to the town. 

"My initial thought was that I didn't like the split, but as I think it through, I think it is probably better for us," Burns said in an e-mail. "It can't hurt to have a second representative in Congress, especially for a community our size." 

The map also splits the Pioneer Valley, handing territory in Franklin and Hampshire counties to the Worcester district. McGovern's district would include Greenfield, Northampton and Amherst. 

Neal's district would include all of Berkshire County. 

The map takes effect for next year's statewide election.