Norton is divided up into three legislative districts. The largest is the 1st Bristol District, currently represented by outgoing Rep. Virginia Coppola. That district includes precincts 3,4 and 5 in Norton. Currently there are three democrats and one republican seeking to grab this vacated seat.
In the 4th Bristol District, Nortons precinct 1 is thrown in with Seekonk and Rehoboth – two towns with which Norton shares virtually nothing else. There are no less than six – countem, six – candidates seeking that seat, with all of them pretending Norton is a critical part of the district.
Precinct 2 is Nortons lone remaining precinct. That one is lumped in a district with North Attleboro and part of Mansfield, currently represented by Rep. Betty Poirier, who has no opposition. Poirier is also careful to pay the proper amount of public attention to Norton, insisting the town is lucky to in fact have three state representatives rather then just one.
So we are left with two races for three seats, and we are not a major factor in any of them. But that does not mean we should not vote on the 19th. Last year Claire Naughton won in two of the three towns in her district, including Norton. But she lost the race because she was unable to carry Foxboro – the only town in the district that has all its precincts included.
I was on that campaign. When Claire Naughton hired me to make her web site last December, one of the first things I did was look for a map of the district to put on her web site. Go ahead, look at the map. Does it make any sense that the district would snake distcontiguously through half of Mansfield just to grab half of Norton on the other side?
But that’s far from the strangest Massachusetts district I’ve campaigned in over the past few years. Check out, for example, the 18th Suffolk, which snakes around the outside of Allston-Brighton, dipping into Brookline for one precinct, and surrounding the 17th Suffolk, which is shaped like some sort of splatter. Or how about the bizarro 4th Congressional District – whose major population centers of Brookline, Newton, Fall River, and New Bedford, are at opposite ends.
When I volunteered for Tim Schofield in a special election in the 18th Suffolk in early 2005, even most of us on the campaign never quite had it clear in our heads which streets were in which district. If we were confused, walking precinct canvass lists every day, imagine how confused the voters of Allston-Brighton are about it! Hardly anyone can guess whether their neighbor has the same state rep as they do.
The 18th Suffolk district was drawn the way it is to protect former Rep Brian Golden, a conservative Democrat who campaigned for Bush in New Hampshire in 2000 and 2004. He initially won the seat in a 5-way primary with less than 30% of the vote. The the district was altered to remove some precincts that vote more liberally, protecting him from future challenges. It highlights the inherent conflict of interest we get when the legislature makes the map: legislators choose their voters, rather than voters choosing their legislators.
To level the playing field for challengers, John Bonifaz will advocate for independent redistricting.
(I am John Bonifaz’s campaign blogger, and I’m also still Claire Naughton’s web person.)