After nearly a year of trepidation and fear the new maps for Massachusetts’ congressional districts are out. At first glance I hate them. On a second look, I can live with them, but would demand some basic changes and offer a few desires to make the map better. I’ll leave the minutiae of what goes where to Wicked Local’s roundup of the details, but offer my thoughts generally.
First of all let me offer some thoughts on what happened in Western Massachusetts. It does seem that the redistricting committee decided to split the difference on the Western Massachusetts questions. They left two districts in Western Mass (and for all intents and purposes two districts overall west of 495). That is okay, but the method by which they did it seems strange. The question was whether Western Mass would become one solid district (which would kill whichever Democrat had the misfortune to have all of Worcester County) or find a way to keep two seats in Western Mass. They chose the latter, but missed the reason why the Springfield area and the rest of Western Mass want to remain separate.
Both areas are Democratic, but in different ways. The Springfield area is the old blue-collar type Democrats and the rest of Western Mass has a more progressive tinge. There’s a little bit of both in each segment, but they are not identical. In drawing the districts as they did, they essentially divided the progressive part between Neal and McGovern. There were rumors that McGovern’s new district would reach deeper into Western Mass, possibly far enough to pickup Pittsfield, where Andy Nuciforo lives and with it much of his former territory. Moreover, the liberal college towns of Northampton and Amherst go better with the Berkshire towns than with the metropolitan Springfield area.
Elsewhere the district lines seems okay, but make critical mistakes. Little is done to breakup the concentration of Congressman in the Boston area. Sure Lynch and Keating now have to go head to head, but you will still have no matter what four Congressman within ten miles of the statehouse dome.
Perhaps the most troubling part for me is how cities and towns are split up. I don’t like that unless you’re dealing with a city of considerable size like Boston. It generates confusion needlessly and diminishes a communities clout rather than strengthening it, unless again you are huge like Boston. To that end it only makes sense that if we wanted to firm up the Majority-Minority District, we could have done so without chopping up Cambridge or Milford. Additionally, it seems like a Minority-Majority district could be accomplished more compactly than the new one was written. While not in the context of the majority-minority district, the concern about chopping up districts remains true of Raynham, Andover and Fall River and especially a city of a decent minority population like Fall River.
As much of a fan of Barney Frank as I am, his district should not be sprawling from Brookline to southern fishing towns least of all to the division of, again, Fall River. Lynch’s inland Lobster Claw is only deepened and seems like an attempt to preserve for another ten years the district that JFK once held. With McGovern freed up from needing towns South of Boston, a new district with the South fishing towns and gateway cities could have been created and with it new possibilities while South Boston accept the inevitable and stop having its own district. Frank could snap up some white pieces of Boston (to keep the Min-Maj city).
Elsewhere Tierney’s, Tsongas’, Markey’s and the new South Shore/Cape District seem pretty okay, carved up towns notwithstanding. They shore up some reps without running afoul of any community of interest concerns or creative district geometry.