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Mass. legislative redistricting proposal released

By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press / October 18, 2011

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BOSTON—Black, Latino and Asian-American voters could see their political clout on Beacon Hill strengthened under proposed legislative redistricting maps that would dramatically increase the number of so-called minority-majority districts in Massachusetts

The maps, based on population numbers from the 2010 U.S. Census, would redraw lines in the 160-seat Massachusetts House to double the number of districts from 10 to 20 where white non-Hispanics are in the minority.

In the 40-member Senate, the number of minority-majority districts would increase from two to three. Those include two existing districts in the Boston area and a new district in Springfield.

Of the 20 new minority-majority districts in the House, four would have a majority of Latinos. Those four include two in Lawrence and one each in Springfield and the East Boston area of Boston.

One of the two Latino-majority districts in Lawrence would have no incumbent running for reelection.

"These maps, I believe, truly reflect the many faces of the commonwealth," said state Rep. Michael Moran, D-Boston, the House chairman of the joint redistricting committee.

The 20 House districts where blacks, Latinos and other minority groups would be in the majority would be located in Lynn, Lawrence, Holyoke, Springfield, Lowell, Brockton, Worcester and Boston, which would have half of the seats, said Moran.

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, the committee's co-chairman, said the new Senate map reduces the number of cities and towns split between two districts from 25 to 21. He said under the new map, 92 percent of residents will remain in the same Senate district as they are now.

Rosenberg said the committee tried to adhere closely to the federal Voting Rights Act when crafting the maps. He said members also tried to listen to the views of as many groups as possible.

"We took the best ideas we got from all across the state and incorporated them into the map," he said.

The census found the state's population growing more racially and ethnically diverse over the past 10 years. The black population in Massachusetts rose 26 percent in the last decade. Latino and the Asian-American populations rose 46 percent.

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Democrat who currently represents a minority-majority district in Boston, said one of her goals on the committee was to ensure that "communities that have been traditionally underrepresented, particularly communities of color, had a voice at the table."

"I think we see a really strong outcome in increasing the count of minority-majority districts by 50 percent in the Senate and 100 percent in the House," she said.

Rep. Byron Rushing, a longtime House member who represents historically black neighborhoods in Boston, said the committee didn't have to contort districts into odd shapes to make the minority-majority areas.

One reason why the districts feel natural, he said, is that Massachusetts is still relatively divided into racial and ethnic pockets.

"Some people will come down and say that one of the reasons this was so easy is that the state is too segregated residentially," said Rushing, D-Boston.

Not everyone was thrilled with the maps.

Some Hispanic activists say they're disappointed that the House map wasn't able to create a Latino-majority district in Chelsea, a city with a high number of Hispanic residents.

Instead Chelsea is divided into three House seats, including one Chelsea precinct that has been pulled into East Boston to create a Latino district centered in that neighborhood of Boston.

Alejandra St. Guillen, executive director of Oiste, a nonprofit group that trains Massachusetts Latinos to run for office, said the proposed map will make it tough for a Latino from Chelsea to win any of the three seats.

"We had submitted a different scenario where you had the Latino sections of East Boston pulled into Chelsea," she said.

Moran and Rosenberg said the committee is trying to have a more open process than in past years. It is setting aside seven days for a public comment period, after which the committee will vote to recommend the maps, which may be tweaked in response to the public comments.

After that, lawmakers will have an additional seven days to file proposed amendments.

The proposed maps must be approved by the House and Senate, likely the week of Oct. 31, and signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in time for the 2012 elections.

In past years, redistricting maps were largely drawn in private by lawmakers and voted on shortly after they were unveiled.

Ten years ago the mapmaking process ultimately led to the indictment of former Democratic House Speaker Thomas Finneran for lying during his testimony in a redistricting lawsuit. Finneran eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice.

A new map shrinking Massachusetts congressional districts from 10 to nine isn't expected this week.

Massachusetts' population grew at a slower rate compared with other states in the last decade, causing the state to lose a seat in the U.S. House.

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