Chair: New congressional districts won’t pit incumbent vs. incumbent

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Boston State House

Boston State House

BOSTON (SHNS) – One of the top Democrats leading the redistricting effort this year believes that the nine Congressional districts in Massachusetts can be redrawn in a way that will not pit two incumbents against each other next year, avoiding a situation that cropped up twice during the last round of mapping 10 years ago.

Sen. William Brownsberger, the president pro tempore of the Senate and co-chair of the Special Committee on Redistricting, told the News Service this week that he does not envision a situation where any members of the delegation would be forced to run against each other in 2022.

“We’re not losing a seat. The adjustments are not so big that one candidate will have to run against another, so I view the Congressional adjustments as modest, necessary and straight-forward in the long run,” Brownsberger said.

The Belmont Democrat’s assessment of the task ahead came after the U.S. Census Bureau released state population and apportionment data confirming that Massachusetts would retain all nine House seats based on the 2020 Census count.

However, the 7.4 percent growth in population over the last decade increased the state’s head count to 7,029,917 and means that the size of each Congressional district must grow from about 728,849 after 2010 to 781,497. Depending on where the population shifts occurred, the shape of each district could change a little or a lot before the 2022 elections.

“It’s what redistricting is all about, which is making sure every person has the same vote,” Brownsberger said.

The committee won’t know for sure where that population growth occurred until the U.S. Census Bureau releases more detailed data no later than Sept. 30, but Secretary of State William Galvin already expressed confidence based on estimates that U.S. Rep. Richard Neal’s district in western Massachusetts will have to expand to capture more population.

That means other districts in the east will likely have to shrink to shed population as they have grown faster than central and western Massachusetts.

Assistant House Majority Leader Michael Moran agreed that the First Congressional District, which is represented by Neal and is already bordered on the south, west and north by Connecticut, New York and Vermont, will probably need to expand.

Census data from the 2019 American Community Survey suggests Neal’s district may need to capture more than 56,000 new residents, while the latest estimates from the UMass Donahue Institute suggest the number could be closer to 45,000.

“There’s only one place you can get those. Come east,” Moran said. He also expects the Ninth Congressional District, spanning Cape Cod and much of southeastern Massachusetts, will need to grow to the north.
The estimates also suggest U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s 7th Congressional District and U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch’s 8th Congressional District – both anchored in Boston – will need to shrink.

Moran has been through this process before, leading the redistricting effort after the 2010 Census when Massachusetts lost one Congressional seat.

In that round of redistricting, former Congressman John Olver opted to retire as it became clear his district would need to be merged with the one represented by Neal, of Springfield. U.S. Rep. William Keating also chose to move his permanent address from Quincy to his summer home in Bourne rather than run against U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch in the new 8th Congressional District.

Moran is reluctant to discuss hypotheticals based on population estimates. He’d prefer to wait until the Census provides actual community and precinct numbers to discuss what needs to be done.

But the Boston Democrat said he already knows that preserving the status of the Pressley’s district as the state’s only majority-minority district is a goal, and an achievable one.

“It’s one of my highest priorities,” he said.

Both Moran and Brownsberger also said they were pleased after being concerned about the possibility of undercounting people during the COVID-19 pandemic that the state’s total recorded population exceeded expectations.

“I believe we probably did a really good job of counting the more transient group quarters, colleges and universities,” Moran said. “That’s what I was worried about because there were no college students here while we were counting.”

With the Springfield-Holyoke area the next largest in terms of concentrations of minority populations, Moran said it won’t be possible this cycle to create a second majority-minority district, but Pressley’s district could be strengthened.

“It’s just trying to do it in a way that makes sure people’s voices are heard and the decisions that are made are driven by the numbers,” Moran said.

The redistricting committee has had one general public hearing this month, and plans virtual hearings for each of the nine Congressional districts over the next few of months. The next virtual hearing has been scheduled for 5 p.m. on May 4 for residents of the 5th Congressional District, represented by U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, of Melrose.

That hearing will be followed by one on May 24 for residents of U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern’s 2nd Congressional District in central Massachusetts.

Brownsberger said the goal is to listen to residents and stakeholders and follow the law.

“Hopefully, there won’t be any drama,” Brownsberger said.

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