After Losing A House Seat, Someone Must Go

Download Audio

Massachusetts finds itself in company it doesn't want to be in. The state is losing one of its 10 congressional districts. At a news conference in Washington, Robert Groves, the director of the U.S. Census Bureau, put Massachusetts on a list of losers.

"Those losing states are Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania," Groves said.

All will lose congressional districts as a result of population change in the latest U.S. Census. The country's population has grown by 9.7 percent since 2000. Not so in Massachusetts. It's grown by a mere 3.1 percent over the last 10 years. And so we lose one of our congressional districts as part of the continuing decline of the Northeast and Midwest in favor of the South and West.

"Populations shift. That's part of life," said Rep. Mike Capuano.

"I'm not that worried about it ... this has happened before. People tend to forget that at the beginning of the 20th century, we had 16 members in the delegation."

Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.)

Capuano recently told WBUR that to a large extent, Massachusetts is the victim of its weather.

"I've oftentimes suggested that we revoke anybody's ability to get any air conditioner. I think that would keep our population in Massachusetts and maybe away from the Southwest," he said.

We spoke to Capuano again right after news broke that the state is losing a member of Congress.

While Capuano said that size matters, he said a state's clout in Congress is determined by more than the size of its delegation.

"I'm not that worried about it, in the sense that, look, this has happened before. People tend to forget that at the beginning of the 20th century, we had 16 members in the delegation," Capuano said.

Since then, Capuano pointed out, Massachusetts has managed to produce four speakers of the House.

"So, clout is a function of who you send to Washington," he said.

With that in mind, the Legislature has to decide whose congressional seat disappears. Now, this is the state that invented gerrrymandering. The term is named after Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts governor in the early 19th century who came up with a redistricting plan with some convoluted borders.

And politics still play a role, as Gov. Deval Patrick acknowledged Tuesday.

"It's a political process, right? So there's some give and take," Patrick said.

Legislators are hoping that maybe there won't have to be too much give and take. Democratic State Rep. Michael Moran, who chairs the Massachusetts House Redistricting Committee, predicts that his job will be made easier when a congressman announces he's retiring or running for the Senate against Republican Scott Brown.

"My guess is that you're going to see, over the next coming months, something happen with regard to one of them making a move or announcing something that will certainly help us when we have to look at the reconfiguration of the nine districts," Moran said.

There's speculation that the district Rep. Barney Frank represents might be wiped off the congressional map if he retires. Frank told WBUR recently that he has been thinking about retiring, but maybe not in just two years.

"I'm 70 years old. I'm not going to be in Congress eight years from now, but how many more terms? I don't know. It depends on how you feel. It depends on other things," Frank said.

If nobody retires, Democratic state Sen. Stan Rosenberg, the chairman of the State Senate Redistricting Committee, said legislators could look at other factors, "and among them is the question of seniority and clout of your members of Congress," he said.

That could be good news for Rep. Ed Markey, who has the most seniority. But if the Legislature uses seniority, then residents of the South Shore, Cape Cod and the islands could lose their congressional district, because their representative, Bill Keating, is about to become the most junior member of the Massachusetts delegation.

Earlier Coverage:

This program aired on December 22, 2010.

Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



More from WBUR

Listen Live