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State House Roundup: Coloring By Smaller Numbers

When “constitutionally defensible” becomes one of the main talking points for a piece of legislation, one might assume a fair amount of controversy surrounding the proposal, particularly one steeped in politics with careers on the line.

Not so with this week’s rollout of the Legislature’s proposed congressional redistricting map, a plan that might have pitted two incumbents against one another if not for Rep. William Keating’s gracious, if not self-preservational, decision to move, and one that forces two other incumbents to get to know whole new regions of voters.

The map produced by Rep. Michael Moran and Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, according to those who have spent months lobbying and readying for a fight, does something some believed would have to be settled in court. Made easier by Rep. John Olver’s retirement decision, the colored-coded map cutting 10 districts into nine appears to make more geographic sense than the one that’s been in place for the past five congressional elections.

With the exception of the new 7th Congressional District, an awkward seahorse-shaped knife that cuts from Somerville and Cambridge through Boston into Milton and Randolph to capture minority neighborhoods, the map’s relatively square contours appeared to keep the lawyers at bay for now.

Even that new 7th District, currently represented by Rep. Michael Capuano - and ironically reminiscent of the 1812 state Senatorial district that gave birth to the term gerrymandering – satisfied despite its odds shape. Forces looking to empower minority voters were pleased.

“They did everything we asked for,” said Kevin Peterson, the director of the Black Empowerment Coalition, happy about the new majority-minority district that boosted the minority voting age population of the district now represented by Rep. Michael Capuano to nearly 52 percent.

So the shakeout now looks something like this: freshman Democratic Rep. William Keating will move to his second home in Bourne to run in the new, ‘incumbent-free’ southeastern district, where he could face both a Republican and Democratic challenge. Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and former Sen. Robert O’Leary are among those who said they will consider the opportunity, and others have time to decide whether to take a shot.

Paging Sen. Mark Montigny, the former Ways and Means chairman whose New Bedford home is no longer the domain of U.S. Rep. Barney Frank.

Rep. John Tierney, his reputation reeling from revelations that he might have known more than he let on about his brother-in-law’s illegal off-shore Antigua gambling enterprise, will stare down a few more conservative voters in Andover, Billerica and Tewksbury, emboldening a GOP field that will include former Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei.

Tisei said he’s getting back on the horse after losing his bid for lieutenant governor last year as Charlie Baker’s running mate, and Baker couldn’t be happier. Asked why he’s not giving the seat a look himself, Baker told the Roundup, “I live in Tisei’s district. He’s perfect for the job.”

Finally, Reps. Richard Neal and Jim McGovern must once again think of themselves as newcomers on the block, introducing themselves to thousands of new voters in western Massachusetts, with Neal looking at a primary challenge from former state Sen. Andrea Nuciforo.

With redistricting poised to come to its conclusion next Tuesday, the question late in the week, and with few answers, became whether or not the Legislature could clear any other items off the to-do list before tumbling head-long into a seven-week recess until after the New Year.

As the clock ticked toward the Tuesday at 8 p.m. deadline for House and Senate conferees to file compromises with the clerks on casino gambling, pensions and human trafficking, the House meandered through the week with little on the agenda other than welcoming new state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, of Pittsfield, to the family.

Meanwhile, the Senate rammed through a massive crime bill reforming the state’s parole, mandatory sentencing, gun and drug crime laws and accomplishing, with unanimous support, what has eluded lawmakers for 12 years: putting a three-strikes-and-you’re-out law on the books stripping parole eligibility from repeat violent felons.

With Sen. Steven Baddour (D-Methuen) waving plastic baggies of fake cocaine around on the Senate floor to make a point, some members of the House like Rep. Brad Hill confessed to watching the other chamber’s debate closely.

Hill, an Ipswich Republican, has been a longtime advocate of the three-strikes bill, but it remains to be seen whether the House will be amenable to the proposal, after being excluded from its drafting, or if the bill will get scrapped and carved up into bits and pieces.

Back in January, a week after the shooting death of Woburn police officer John Maguire by a man who had been paroled despite three life sentences, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he’d begun reaching out to examine parole policy changes. "It seems to me as an attorney, and just as a citizen, that a person who receives three life sentences is eligible for parole - I just don't understand that," DeLeo told reporters at the time, referring to the Maguire case, which was cited this week by senators who opted to move their own bill rather than wait for the House.

Baddour, who helped write the bill as part of a bipartisan working group tapped by Senate President Therese Murray, appeared to relish in the assertion that nobody, with the notable exceptions of maybe the district attorneys, victims’ families and the 36 senators who voted in favor, liked the bill.

But there were significant pockets of opposition. The Boston Bar Association critiqued it as a missed opportunity for meaningful reform to mandatory minimum sentencing, and prisoner advocates railed against it as bill that would cost millions and exacerbate prison overcrowding.

Gently reminded of these opinions, Baddour giddily said, “I know. Isn’t it great? We got 36 votes. This is a textbook case of compromise.”

Murray appeared to agree, offering a message-sending note of congratulations to her colleagues after the vote: "The people who will deal in death and administer death to others will be dealt with accordingly. I'm very proud of this body."

Maybe they’re gunning for a chapter in Gov. Deval Patrick’s new book on the “politics of conviction,” which the governor disclosed he has been writing as a follow-up to his April memoir “A Reason to Believe” after meeting in New York on Thursday with potential publishers.

Negotiations over his next book advance nearly forced Patrick to miss the 15th birthday celebration for MassINC, a politically star-studded gala at the J.F.K Presidential Library that drew big laughs from the assembled media-political types with a mix of pre-recorded and live skits.

Even Mayor Thomas Menino doing his best godfather impersonation as he stroked a stuffed cat could not stop people from talking after the show about Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray’s bit.

After causing tongues to wag for weeks on Beacon Hill after a pre-dawn storm reconnaissance mission to Sterling left his state vehicle in a crumpled heap on the side of I-190, Murray served up a lesson in humility as he stalked the Public Gardens in search of anybody who could name the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.

Don’t worry, Jim, we know who you are.

Election day also came and went, proving voters, not pundits, still control the polls with surprise wins across the state, including Holyoke’s new 22-year-mayor Alex Morse, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley’s top-of-ticket performance, and Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong’s Houdini survival skills.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Chapters, not final, being written.

This program aired on November 12, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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