Massachusetts will lose one of its 10 US House seats in 2012 following the US Census Bureau's reapportionment of congressional districts, which reflects the continued migration of people and political power to the nation's South and West.
The Census Bureau's 2010 population figures, released today, show that the nation grew by 9.7 percent over the past decade, but that Massachusetts' population increased by only 3.3 percent, a modest rate compared with faster-growing states such as Texas and Florida. This year's tally counts 6,559,644 Massachusetts residents, compared with 6,349,097 a decade ago.
The updated population count not only further erodes Massachusetts' clout on Capitol Hill, but also promises to diminish the state's share of federal funding and its stake in presidential elections, in which Electoral College votes are based on the size of a state's congressional delegation.
Nationally, Texas will pick up four seats, and Florida two. New York and Ohio will each lose two seats, and Michigan, the only state to actually shed residents, will lose one. Overall, the United States now has 309 million people, with the West making particular gains. For the first time, Census officials said, the West is more populous than the Midwest.
In Massachusetts, the release of the Census figures sets the stage for a year-long political struggle, in which members of the state's congressional delegation will jockey to preserve their seats and favorable new district boundaries. At the center of it will be Beacon Hill legislative leaders and Governor Deval Patrick, who are charged with creating the new map.
With public interest groups and some public officials saying political inference should be kept to a minimum, Patrick said today he would work to make sure the redistricting process, which will also include redrawing state legislative districts, will be objective and fair.
"My role in it is to make sure the plan is fair and open and produces a result that we can be confident in," Patrick said at press conference. "Itís a political process, right? So there is some give-and-take. But there are rules. There are constitutional rules."
Still, in a state which coined the word gerrymandering when its political leaders in the 19th century created a contorted congressional district, the redistricting debate will inevitably come down to a series of political power plays, many of which will take place behind closed doors. Those battles have, over the years, resulted in serpentine districts -- including one that runs from Nantucket to the Boston city limits, and another that includes both New Bedford and Brookline.
"There is a lot of raw politics here," said the House Republican leader, Bradley H. Jones Jr., asserting that lawmakers will draw the maps with their own political futures in mind. "To deny that is not involved is naive."
It is not clear whether any current members of the Massachusetts House delegation, all Democrats, will be forced to face each other in the 2012 primaries. If one or more incumbents decide not seek another term or run for another office, the negotiations between the delegation and Beacon Hill will be made easier.
Some observers predict, for example, that US Representative Barney Frank, a Newton Democrat first elected in 1980, will not seek re-election in 2012. Other members, including Michael E. Capuano of Somerville, Stephen F. Lynch of South Boston, and Edward J. Markey of Malden, could be potential candidates to take on Republican Senator Scott Brown, who is up for re-election in two years.
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