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Mass. Minority Groups Praise Redistricting Proposal

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The number of legislative districts with a majority-minority population will double next year under a plan unveiled on Beacon Hill. The proposal is being cheered by groups advocating increased minority representation.

Right now 10 out of the 160 House districts in Massachusetts are defined as "majority-minority," meaning that a majority of the residents there are African-American, Latino, Asian or another minority group. If the maps unveiled Tuesday afternoon are approved by the full Legislature and signed by the governor, there will be 20 such majority-minority districts in the House.

Half of the 20 majority-minority districts will be in Boston, with the remainder scattered around the state in Springfield, Holyoke, Worcester, Lawrence, Lowell and, for the first time, Brockton.

"These maps truly, I believe, reflect the many, many faces of the commonwealth," said House Redistricting Committee Chairman Mike Moran, who beamed as he presented the newly drawn districts.

The increase in majority-minority districts exceeds what any advocacy group had requested.

"One of the things that I'm most proud of is that next year when we raise our hands to get sworn in, it's very likely because of the work we've done here, there is going to be another Hispanic member of our House of Representatives," Moran said.

Half of the 20 majority-minority districts will be in Boston, with the remainder scattered around the state in Springfield, Holyoke, Worcester, Lawrence, Lowell and, for the first time, Brockton. On the Senate side, the number of majority-minority districts increases from two to three, with a new majority-minority district created in Springfield.

While they will be diving into the data behind the new districts, groups that have been calling for more minority representation in the Legislature are generally pleased.

"At first blush, we are extremely elated that the statewide map that was presented on the surface reflects a proportionate amount, proportionality in terms of minority communities statewide," said Kevin Peterson, the executive director of the Massachusetts Black Empowerment Coalition for Redistricting.

"You know, Massachusetts is changing, and it's not just Boston, it's the rest of the state," said Malia Lazu of the Drawing Democracy Project.

Lazu applauds the committee for looking beyond Boston to expand minority districts.

"And I think that there are several places throughout the state that had absolute opportunity to become majority-minority and we were thrilled to see that they took advantage of that," she said.

This positive reaction is different from 10 years ago, when the last redistricting effort prompted minority groups to sue the state. The suit was successful, forcing the Legislature to redraw some districts to reflect the increase in minority population. A byproduct of that suit was a guilty plea in federal court from former House Speaker Thomas Finneran, who admitted he lied under oath about his role in the redistricting process.

While no one seems to be talking about lawsuits just yet, there are some concerns. Peterson wants to make changes to one of the Boston Senate districts to include an African-American majority, and Alejandra St. Guillen of the Latino group Oiste said the committee is missing an opportunity to create a predominantly Latino district in Chelsea.

"Now Chelsea goes from two representatives, to three, which in a city of 30,000 really dilutes the power of the Latino vote, and that's really concerning to us. Chelsea's a very powerful force politically," St. Guillen said.

The public will have a week to examine the newly drawn districts. The Redistricting Committee may make changes based on the input they get during the public comment period, and then the full Legislature will debate the maps during the week of Halloween. The plan has to be in place by Nov, 4, a full year before next year's election.


This program aired on October 19, 2011.

Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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