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Brown says redistricting plan should empower minorities

Letter does not endorse specific configuration

Senator Brown is urging the Legislature to create a seat to represent a majority minority area in Congress. Senator Brown is urging the Legislature to create a seat to represent a majority minority area in Congress. (Wendy Maeda/ Globe Staff)
By Theo Emery
Globe Staff / April 28, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Senator Scott Brown yesterday called on the state redistricting committee to create a seat that would empower Boston’s minority voters and improve the chances of a minority candidate for Congress.

Brown, a Republican, sent a letter to the chairs of the Legislature’s Special Committee on Redistricting offering his support for a Suffolk County district that is majority nonwhite, known as a majority-minority district.

“It is my hope that any redistricting for congressional or state legislative seats will result in districts that avoid diluting the voting strength of citizens based on the color of their skin,’’ he wrote to state Senator Stanley Rosenberg and Representative Mike Moran, both Democrats.

Because other states have grown faster than Massachusetts since 2000, the Bay State is losing one of its 10 congressional seats. The redistricting has ignited speculation over which district will disappear — and which Democratic incumbents could be forced to face each other in a primary — as well as fierce lobbying over where the new lines will fall.

Brown’s letter also injects the sole GOP member of the congressional delegation into a longtime debate tinged with racial and political overtones. There has only been one nonwhite member of the congressional delegation in state history — Senator Edward Brooke, a Republican.

Legal groups that represent minority voters have long claimed that the Democratic-leaning Legislature has drawn districts to protect incumbents, sometimes diminishing the power of minority voters in the process.

Federal courts have reached the same conclusion. After the Massachusetts House created a redistricting plan for state representatives and senators after the 2000 US Census, minority-rights groups sued, and a US District Court judge ruled that the plan violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act by illegally watering down minority voting power. The lawmakers had to redraw its map.

The act’s remedy to discriminatory voting districts is to require state line-drawers to create districts whenever possible that consolidate minority voters, thus increasing their impact without significantly diminishing their power in surrounding districts.

Rachael Cobb, chair of the government department at Suffolk University, was intrigued that Brown had inserted himself in the process. But it was not clear what impact his advocacy would have or whether it would better the chances for a majority-minority district. Nor would it give much advantage to Republicans in neighboring districts, she said.

“It is not easy . . . to be able to create districts that are going to have the allotted 700,000 people for congressional districts that will be able to elect a Republican,’’ she said.

Several political groups have been pushing a majority-minority seat, including the Massachusetts Black Empowerment Coalition for Redistricting.

“I want to add my voice to theirs,’’ Brown said in the letter.

The group’s executive director, Kevin C. Peterson, said he welcomed Brown’s support.

“My hope is that this is a post-partisan attempt to join Democrats in a process that is about equity and fairness for historically disenfranchised voting groups,’’ he said.

Brown did not specify any particular configuration that would create a minority voting district, and a spokesman declined to comment beyond what was in the letter.

Peterson said that such a district could be created through several scenarios. One would be to tinker with the edges of the Eighth Congressional District, which Michael Capuano of Somerville represents, to bring more minority voters into the district, most likely from Chelsea.

In a second scenario, Suffolk County would be a district by itself, combining parts of Capuano’s with the Ninth District, which Stephen D. Lynch represents. A third option would be a long district combining parts of Boston with Randolph and Brockton.

Capuano lost to Martha Coakley in the Democratic primary for the opportunity to face Brown 15 months ago in a special election. He and Lynch have been mentioned as possible Senate candidates in 2012.

Theo Emery can be reached at temery@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @temery