District Maps Adjusted Ahead Of Thursday House Vote
By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
OCT. 19, 2021…..After soliciting feedback over the past week on draft redistricting maps for the Legislature, House and Senate leaders on Tuesday finalized revised plans that would add a sixth majority-minority Senate district that covers Brockton and strengthen the majority-minority status of House districts in New Bedford and Framingham.
The revised maps would redraw the political boundaries for all 200 seats in the Legislature and continue to reflect the emphasis Democratic leaders have placed this cycle on increasing opportunities for candidates of color to win.
As now proposed, the House would increase the number of majority-minority districts from 20 to 33, including four incumbent-free districts in Brockton, Framingham, Chelsea and Lawrence where advocates see the opportunity to elect a person of color as soon as next year.
On the Senate side, the new plan would increase the number of majority-minority districts from three to six.
The House plans to vote on its redistricting plan on Thursday, while the Senate is expected to wait until next week to take its vote. Unlike the Senate, candidates for House seats face a Nov. 8 deadline to live in the district where they hope to run in 2022.
Especially on the Senate side, leaders responded to some of the pushback leveled over the past week against the draft Senate map that advocates labeled as “overcautious” because it failed to capitalize on the opportunity to draw a majority-minority district in southeastern Massachusetts that grouped Brockton with Randolph, and potentially Stoughton.
Senate President Pro Tempore William Brownsberger said the map presented to the Special Committee on Redistricting on Tuesday would create a new Senate district with a 54.3 percent minority population that newly combines Brockton with half of Randolph and Avon, and shifts Hanover and Plympton out of the district.
“We’ve listened hard to the input and stretched to accommodate it as much we could,” Brownsberger said.
Asked why the new district didn’t include all of Randolph or Stoughton, Brownsberger said, “We stretched about as far as we felt we could given our understanding of the law.”
Members of the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting were shown the two revised maps on Tuesday afternoon and asked for vote to advance them to the full House and Senate.
Assistant House Majority Leader Michael Moran, who has been leading the redistricting effort in that branch, said the plan was for the full House to vote on Thursday, while Brownsberger said the Senate would likely wait until next week to give members time to digest the changes.
“There isn’t much that people are going to be surprised at,” Moran said about the House map, which has been mostly well received.
After a hearing on Friday to solicit feedback, Moran said some changes made to the draft House map included a reconfiguration of majority-minority districts proposed in and around Framingham and New Bedford to make those “stronger majority minority seats.”
Moran said the House map the committee was considering also restored Foxborough fully to the 1st Bristol District represented by Republican Rep. F. Jay Barrows, rather than adding a piece of the town to the district represented by Democrat Ted Phillips.
The changes made to the Senate map were more substantial.
In addition to the new Brockton district, Brownsberger said he and the committee made the decision to restore three precincts in South Dorchester to the 1st Suffolk District rather than split Ward 16, and add those precincts to the district that stretches south into Milton.
Rep. Dan Hunt, a Dorchester Democrat who chairs the Ward 16 Democratic Committee, threatened legal action over the splitting of the ward, and Brownsberger said after visiting the neighborhoods over the weekend he agreed it did not make sense to separate those precincts.
Brownsberger said the revised Senate map also “adjusts boundaries to more closely match Hispanic neighborhoods in Haverhill,” but it continues to propose that the Merrimack Valley city be split in two in order to create a new majority-minority incumbent-free Senate district anchored in Lawrence.
Haverhill’s largely Hispanic neighborhoods are earmarked for the new Lawrence-based district that also includes Methuen, but decouples Lawrence from the mostly white suburb of Andover.
Haverhill leaders, including Rep. Andy Vargas and Mayor Jim Fiorentini, have criticized the plan to split the city as one that would dilute the voting power of Haverhill’s Hispanic residents and reduce the opportunity for the city to elect someone from the city to the Senate.
Beth Huang, director of the Massachusetts Voter Table and a leader in the Drawing Democracy Coalition, acknowledged the concerns of Haverhill’s Latinx community, but said “the bottom line for the coalition and the biggest change overall was splitting Lawrence from Andover.”
Huang also called the new Brockton district a “big step forward.” “It’s not everything we wanted, but it’s definitely a move in the right direction for the next decade,” she told the News Service.
While lawsuits are common during redistricting across the country, the Legislature managed to stay out of court 10 years ago, despite the state losing a seat in Congress. Whether that will be possible this year remains to be seen.
“At this point we feel that our voices have been heard in the redistricting process,” Huang said.