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Mass. House plan would create 33 majority minority districts

Maps illustrate proposed House redistricting changes in the Brockton, Chelsea, Framingham, and Lawrence areas where leaders have proposed four incumbent-free majority-minority districts. (Special Joint Committee on Redistricting)
Maps illustrate proposed House redistricting changes in the Brockton, Chelsea, Framingham, and Lawrence areas where leaders have proposed four incumbent-free majority-minority districts. (Special Joint Committee on Redistricting)

In an increasingly diverse state, House leaders presented a map on Tuesday with new boundaries for all 160 House districts that would increase opportunities for minority candidates to win election to the Legislature by creating four new incumbent-free districts centered in Chelsea, Brockton, Lawrence and Framingham and increasing the number of districts with a majority minority population by 13 beginning with the 2022 elections.

The new maps also would mostly avoid pitting incumbents against one another next year, with caveats in place in all four instances of two incumbents being paired in the same district, including one retirement - Rep. Elizabeth Malia - and two examples of House lawmakers awaiting confirmation to federal appointments within the Biden administration.

Assistant House Majority Leader Michael Moran and Senate President Pro Tempore William Brownsberger presented draft legislative maps for both the House and Senate at a Tuesday afternoon hearing of the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting, announcing a public comment period that will stretch through the end the business day Monday and a final hearing this Friday.

Maps with newly drawn Congressional and Governor's Council districts will follow "as soon as we can get them out," Brownsberger said.

The two Democrats have been leading the redistricting effort this year after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the traditional spring release of U.S. Census population data until mid-August. Their goal, Moran said, is to have the maps on Gov. Charlie Baker's desk by the end of the month, at least 10 days before the Nov. 8 deadline for House candidates to live in the districts they intend to run from in 2022.

While the population in Massachusetts grew by 7.4 percent to more than 7 million over the past 10 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the white population declined by 7 percent, while the Black, Asian and Latinx populations all grew. The Asian population saw the most growth of 45.3 percent, or 157,405 people, followed by Hispanics at 41.4 percent, or 260,031, and Blacks at 16.7 percent, or 65,362 people.

Moran called the new House districts a "reflection" of those trends.

"There is not an area on this map where you could draw 50 percent of any population, whether it be a combination of Black, Hispanic and Asian or just Black and Hispanic, and we didn't didn't draw it," Moran said.

[Explore: Statewide House Map / District-by-District]
The proposed map of new House districts would increase the number of majority minority districts from the 20 put in place when the current districts were drawn in 2011 to 33, exceeding the targets set by voting rights groups that have been pressuring lawmakers to draw districts that would maximize opportunities for candidates of color to win seats on Beacon Hill and diversify the ranks of the Legislature.

Last session, there were just 14 members of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus in the 160-seat House.

The Drawing Democracy Coalition had identified nine House districts that could be transformed into majority minority districts based on population growth.

"We're pleased with the large block of majority minority districts that begin in the heart of Boston and extend all the way to Brockton. In particular, we are looking forward to seeing the outcomes of elections in the incumbent free district in Brockton," said Beth Huang, director of the Massachusetts Voter Table and a leader with the Drawing Democracy Coalition. Huang said she expects to see a new Black legislator from Brockton emerge in 2022.

Geoff Foster, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said the proposed House map "will surely increase the political power of BIPOC communities across the state," and he commended the decision to use total population whe calnculating ethnic and racial diversity, as opposed to citizen voting age population.

Eight of the new majority-minority districts proposed by the committee have majority Latinx populations, and two have majority Black populations, while minorities collectively make up the majority of the population in the remaining 23 districts.

The draft House map would create five incumbent-free districts in total, including four majority-minority districts centered around Chelsea, Brockton, Lawrence and Framingham. The 11th Suffolk District and 4th Essex districts, as drafted, would be incumbent-free and majority Hispanic, while the other two incumbent free districts would be majority opportunity districts, meaning no one minority group represents over 50 percent of the population.

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In order to create two of those districts, incumbent House Majority Leader Claire Cronin of Easton and Rep. Maria Robinson of Framingham would be paired against colleagues Rep. Gerald Cassidy of Brockton and Rep. Jack Patrick Lewis of Framingham, though those showdowns are not expected to happen.

Cronin has been nominated by President Joe Biden to become the ambassador to Ireland, while Robinson has been nominated by the White House for a post as an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Energy.

"We used that to our advantage, but we don't know if they're going to get these appointments or not," Moran said.

The other incumbents that would be pitted against one another by the new maps include Reps. Elizabeth Malia and Nika Elugardo of Boston in the new 15th Suffolk District and Reps. Paul Mark of Peru and John Barrett III in the Berkshires.

Elugardo told the News Service she would decide within the next couple of days whether she intends to seek reelection in her new district, or run for the state Senate in the new Second Suffolk District, which is opening up with Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz running for governor. If Elugardo does run for reelection, she would do so in a House district consolidated in Boston, dropping the parts of Brookline she currently represents.

"It's bittersweet for me. All the precincts I lost I really loved," Elugardo said.

Elugardo, however, said she does not expect to have to run against Malia, and Moran told the News Service that Malia has decided to retire after 12 terms in the House. A fellow Boston Democrat, Moran said Malia specifically requested that the new incumbent-free, majority Hispanic district in Chelsea receive the designation as the 11th Suffolk District, which has been her district's name. Malia's partner is originally from Chelsea.

"She has had a long history in the House and some would say she has been a trailblazeer for the LGBTQ community and is respected by her colleagues here," Moran told the News Service.

While much of the state saw population growth since 2010, the Berkshires contracted and would see its House delegation shrink by one, to three representatives, under the proposed redistricting plan. Mark, who could not be reached for comment, is said to be considering running for state Senate if Sen. Adam Hinds decides to run for lieutenant governor, which he is considering. If that happens, Mark and Barrett would not have to decide whether to run against one another.

While the shifting boundaries are highly unlikely to impact partisan control of either branch where Democrats have larger majorities, Moran acknowleged that in order to create an incumbent-free majority Hispanic district anchored in Lawrence the committee had to carve up the existing 4th Essex District, which has long been held by Republicans.

Brad Hill, an Ipswich Republican who held the seat for over 20 years, recently left the House to join the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and a special election is underway to fill that North Shore seat before it gets splintered.

Moran said that while Republicans will lose Hill's old seat in 2022, voting patterns suggest an opportunity for the GOP to win in the new 19th Worcester District, an incumbent-free district built around parts of Northborough, Southborough, Westborough and Framingham and made possible by population growth in the area.

Other changes proposed around the state include making Rep. Orlando Ramos' 9th Hampden District in Springfield a majority Hispanic district, adding some Black neighborhoods of Milton to Rep. Brandy Fluker Oakley's 12th Suffolk District, based in Mattapan, to keep it solidly majority Black.

The draft plan would also increase the number of majority-minority districts in the state's second largest city of Worcester from one to three. Rep. Mary Keefe's 15th Worcester District is one example of a majority minority district where voters did not elect a minority, but it would become even more diverse under the new proposal, while the 16th and 17th Worcester districts, represented by Reps. Dan Donahue and David LeBoeuf, would be reconfigured to become majority minority.

Not all districts needed to be dramatically reshaped to amplify the voices of the minority residents who live there.

The 33rd Middlesex District in Malden, which is currently represented by Rep. Steven Ultrino, underwent very little revision, but becomes one of the new majority-minority districts on the map based on natural population growth over the last 10 years.

"This district has sort of matured this way over time," Moran said.

Other urban lawmakers saw their districts consolidated. Rep. Michelle DuBois of Brockton, for instance, would see her district contract into the city and she, or the next representative from the 10th Plymouth District, would no longer represent parts of East Bridgewater and West Bridgewater.

Some cities and towns would also become less divided through the process. Residents of Chelmsford have long complained about being represented by four House members, but Lowell Rep. Vanna Howard's district would no longer extend into the town, under the plan, while Randolph would see its representation cut from three members to two.

Some advocates had hoped to see Randolph kept whole, but Moran said it was impossible given the objectives of the House to maximize minority opportunities and the demographics of Randolph's surrounding communities.

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