THE STATE HOUSE — The Bay State political landscape will shift slightly next year after a legislative committee released its draft of new congressional districts. Shifts in the nation’s population are forcing Massachusetts to cut the number of districts from 10 to nine.
Rep. Michael Moran, the House Redistricting chair, said the committee was able to achieve one of its major objectives: increasing the number of minority voters in the district that runs through the heart of Boston.
“For the first time in the history of this commonwealth, we have a majority-minority district that has got a total population of 56 percent and a total voting population age of 52 percent, almost 52 percent. That is a real majority-minority district that empowers people of color,” Moran said.
To do that, the committee extends what is now Rep. Michael Capuano’s district south into predominantly African-American neighborhoods in Milton and Randolph, a move that is being hailed by groups advocating more minority representation.
“OK, I see exactly what we lobbied the Legislature to do,” said Kevin Peterson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Black Empowerment Coalition for Redistricting.
“For the first time in the history of this commonwealth, we have a majority-minority district that has got a total population of 56 percent and a total voting population age of almost 52 percent.”
Peterson likes what he sees. He was marveling at the new shape of the district that includes most of Boston and could set the stage for Peterson’s ultimate goal:
“Hopefully, within the next half decade, or even as early as next year, the communities of color will produce a candidate who will run competitively in this race, against who I assume is the incumbent, Michael Capuano,” he said.
Capuano will run as the incumbent, and has in the past received strong support from minority voters. To increase the number of minorities in that district, the committee is merging part of Rep. Stephen Lynch’s district with key communities including Quincy, now represented by Rep. Bill Keating. That has the potential to set up a primary between Lynch and Keating, but advisers to Keating say the freshman congressman is likely to run as an incumbent from the newly drawn Cape and Islands district that will also now include communities along the South Coast, including New Bedford and part of Fall River.
In the western part of the state, the announcement from longtime Rep. John Olver allowed the committee to make many of the districts more compact. Olver’s district, which spanned from the New York border to the western suburbs of Lowell, is being absorbed by incumbents Rep. Richard Neal of Springfield, Rep. Jim McGovern of Worcester and Rep. Niki Tsongas of Lowell.
Moran denies the map was drawn primarily to protect incumbents.
“Jim McGovern’s district right now, 64 percent of that is new to him. Rep. Neal’s district out in the western part of the state is 47 percent new to him. So to say that we drew this completely for incumbents is probably not correct,” Moran said.
Nevertheless, on the surface, the districts seem to be favorable to Democrats. House Republican Leader Rep. Brad Jones is still going through the data but is less than hopeful his party may fare better.
“I think there will be, like there were in the past, one or two districts, maybe three districts, that present an opportunity. Obviously, it remains to be seen whether we as a party take advantage of it,” Jones said.
The public has until Thursday to weigh in on the new districts, a shorter public comment period than was allowed for the new legislative districts. The full Legislature will debate the map early next week before embarking on a seven-week end-of-year recess.