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W. Mass pols: Don't take away Congressional seat

March 26, 2011

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass.—A stream of political leaders from western Massachusetts on Saturday told the lawmakers charged with redrawing the state's political map that their region can't afford to lose the clout of either of its two Congressmen.

The state Legislature's Joint Committee on Redistricting will redraw the state's congressional districts to reflect the loss of one seat in the U.S. House due to nationwide population shifts. But local officials argued that seat shouldn't come from western Massachusetts.

Speaking at the first of 13 public hearings planned around the state, local officials told the committee that Reps. John Olver and Richard Neal are among the state's most influential Congressmen.

Olver, an Amherst Democrat, is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, while Neal, a Springfield Democrat, is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

"It's ironic that we're talking about two of the most powerful guys in the Massachusetts delegation who are at risk. We can't afford to lose that clout," said former Springfield state Rep. Raymond Jordan, during the hearing at Van Sickle Middle School in Springfield.

Neal told the committee that his membership on the Ways and Means committee was among the most coveted in House because of its role in setting tax policy, promoting trade, and funding the fight against terrorism.

He argued that not only should the two western seats remain, but central Massachusetts should not lose any representation, either.

"Based upon geography, history, and arithmetic, maintaining two seats in western Massachusetts, and three seats in central Massachusetts, makes good sense," Neal said.

A common theme was that the needs of western and central Massachusetts often take a back seat to what people in eastern Massachusetts want, and having two congressmen is essential to ensuring the region gets the help it needs.

State Sen. Stephen Brewer, a Barre Democrat, recalled the 1930s, when four western Massachusetts towns were submerged to make way for the Quabbin Reservoir, which provides water to eastern Massachusetts.

"We should never allow something like that to happen again," he said. "I ask you to fight like hell to make sure that western Mass. has two Congressional districts."

Agawam City Clerk Richard Theroux said the two western Massachusetts districts would have to move eastward to each gain the 70,000 or 80,000 people they need to remain in existence.

"Certainly, the greater Boston area is well-represented," Theroux said. "I'm just asking that you don't leave us behind in western Mass."