BOSTON (SHNS) – Campaigning for governor in a year that Beacon Hill lawmakers are redrawing their own district boundaries, former Democratic Sen. Ben Downing on Tuesday jumped back into the long-simmering debate over who should be in charge of the redistricting process.
As the Legislature’s own redistricting panel gears up this spring, Downing called for an independent commission to handle that work in the future — and took aim at the role his former colleagues currently play in the constitutional process.
The Special Committee on Redistricting, co-chaired by Rep. Michael Moran and Sen. William Brownsberger, held their second hearing and the first geared toward constituents in each of the nine Congressional Districts on Tuesday night, starting with the 5th Congressional District represented by U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark of Melrose.
“Massachusetts state government is marked by inertia, incumbency, and insularity — three things that our current redistricting process protects at all costs,” Downing wrote in a statement. “By putting current elected officials in charge of drawing our political maps, we invite power preservation to supersede fair representation.”
Constitutional amendments have been filed in the past to establish an independent commission, and have been handily defeated with Republicans and a smattering of Democrats voting in favor. When the Legislature debated the idea in 2016, Downing’s last full year in the Senate, it was defeated 43-145 with Downing among a handful of Democrats supporting the proposal.
Leading the opposition to an independent commission in that year’s debate, Worcester Democrat Rep. John Mahoney argued that “no one understands our districts better than we do ourselves. No one else has the time, depth, and care to fully comprehend the nuances of our neighborhoods.”
Downing said Tuesday that an independent commission “is the only way to ensure districts at every level are drawn in a way that gives every Massachusetts voter and community the voice they deserve, particularly those traditionally disenfranchised and historically underserved.”
Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton, another of the few Democrats who supported the idea in 2016, filed a similar amendment this January. The Committee on Election Laws, chaired by Rep. Daniel Ryan and Sen. Barry Finegold, issued a negative report on the proposal (S 16) last Thursday.
The amendment is co-sponsored by Democrat Sen. John Keenan of Quincy. Lawmakers are slated to gavel into this session’s Constitutional Convention next Wednesday, May 12.
The convention stretches over multiple sittings during the two-year legislative session, and lawmakers could still call up and debate the redistricting amendment despite the adverse committee report.