Politics

Following contentious debate, the new Massachusetts congressional map is in Charlie Baker’s hands

Unlike other partisan redistricting fights, the debate in the Bay State has been chiefly among Democrats.

Co-Chairs of the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting Sen. Will Brownsberger and Rep. Mike Moran, right, speak about draft maps of the state legislative districts last month. Erin Clark / The Boston Globe

Take a good look at this map.

It’s the one Massachusetts could have for the next 10 years.

Following votes of approval Wednesday afternoon in the House and Senate, the Massachusetts Legislature has sent a new map for the state’s nine U.S. congressional districts to the desk of Gov. Charlie Baker for final approval.

However, unlike the partisan redistricting fights happening across much of the country, the map has been an argument among Democrats in reliably-blue Massachusetts.

While the proposal does not dramatically alter the general contours of the state’s nine Democrat-held House districts (for comparison, here’s the current map), some of the tweaks around the edges have elicited vocal — to some, surprising — outcry.

The main issue has been the unification of Fall River in the 4th District, currently represented by Rep. Jake Auchincloss.

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While the placement of the city — which is currently split between the 4th and 9th districts — within a single district was generally applauded, some advocates and elected officials, including 9th District Rep. Bill Keating and former 4th District congressman Joe Kennedy III, decried its separation from fellow South Coast city New Bedford, which would remain in the 9th District. Splitting up Fall River and New Bedford into two districts missed a “once-in-a-decade opportunity” to create a district anchored by the two cities that could build political power for residents in the lower-income South Coast communities — a region that advocates say often feels ignored by Beacon Hill power centers.

“While we celebrate that Fall River will no longer be divided, we are extremely disappointed that the same is not true for the South Coast community to which it belongs,” Dax Crocker, a member of Drawing Democracy Coalition, said in a statement Wednesday.

The theory goes that putting Fall River and New Bedford in the same district would have created a chance for the cities — with a combined population of over 195,000 — to elect one of their own residents to Congress.

However, many community members and elected officials in Fall River, spoke out in support of the city’s unification in the 4th District. And for his part, Auchincloss argued that Fall River has more in common with traditional manufacturing cities like Taunton and Attleboro than the commercial fishing hub of New Bedford.

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After a five-hour-long hearing last week, mapmakers released a slightly revised map — keeping Fall River and New Bedford in separate districts.

The map was overwhelmingly approved Wednesday in the House, by a vote of 151 to 8, followed by a more contentious 26-13 passage in the Senate. It now goes to the desk of Baker, who has 10 days to sign or veto the legislation. His office said Thursday that the governor is carefully reviewing the proposal.

State Sen. Marc Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat, took issue with the map authors’ explanation that the changed district boundaries in the South Coast were a “domino effect” of efforts to strengthen minority representation in the Boston-based 7th District, the state’s only majority-minority district. He and others pointed to alternative maps that preserved the 7th District’s majority-minority status while uniting Fall River and New Bedford in the 9th District.

“We end up, I believe, being taken advantage of, and that’s got to stop,” Pacheco, who voted no, said. “And I don’t know when that stops. But it must end.”

Pacheco suggested the map could face legal challenges. And while he doubted they’d be successful, the longtime state senator added that he’s “never been more disappointed” in a map.

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State Sen. Becca Raush, a Needham Democrat, also took issue with the “slashing” of the Metrowest region into five different districts and the lack of “compactness” in the map.

“Marlborough and Hudson are in the 3rd District, Milford is in the 4th District, Framingham is in the 5th, and Norwood is in the 8th Congressional District,” she said. “Looking at that 8th Congressional District, it wraps around the 7th like a V-neck T-shirt.”

State Sen. Will Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat and co-author of the map, said Wednesday that he “deeply” regretted the fact that the proposed districts didn’t have unanimous support.

“It’s always my goal to assure that every single senator is satisfied with the results of the redistricting process,” Brownsberger said.

However, he argued that they’d arrived at the end of the process. According to Rausch, the chamber was pressed for time because Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office “lacked sufficient technology” to certify signatures for congressional nomination papers in time unless the map was passed “now.”

“Sometimes we can leave things to July 31, and sort of keep moving things sideways to perhaps achieve some different outcome,” Brownsberger said. “But this is not a bill where we have the opportunity to do that.”

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