The 2010 Census and Redistricting

The 2010 Census and Redistricting

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts House of Representatives created a redistricting commission that will decide on the political map of our Commonwealth.  I’m interested in your thoughts on the entire redistricting process.  How happy (or unhappy) are you with the current district outlines of your state representative, state senators, and members of the US Congress?  Do you want a voice in the process?  Are the status quo districts good, or are changes needed?  Do you trust the legislature to rearrange the districts, or would you prefer an appointed commission?  If so, who should appoint the commission, and how could that process remain apolitical?

U.S. Census data is very valuable to government and the business community.  The information collected is used to allocate federal funds, to conduct scientific analysis of demographic data, and for accurate land use and planning.  The private sector also benefits from the census data.  Dr. Martin Regalia, chief economist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, “Businesses use the demographic and economic data to locate retail stores and facilities, to plan marketing campaigns, delineate markets and a host of other uses…. This kind of data makes for good government but it is also essential for businesses making investment and operational decisions.”*

As a reminder, the 13th Middlesex state representative district encompasses Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland, each town in its entirety.  Each state representative district encompasses about 40,000 people, and 160 state representatives serve in the legislature.

There are 40 state senate districts, each encompassing about 160,000 citizens.  I work closely with three state senators:  Jamie Eldridge represents part of Sudbury; Susan Fargo represents the other part of Sudbury and all of Lincoln, and Richard Ross represents Wayland.  State senate districts may realign as well.

At the federal level, redistricting this year is complicated by the fact that Massachusetts currently has ten members of Congress, but will have only nine going forward, given that our Commonwealth’s population grew more slowly than other parts of the country.  One sitting congressperson will lose his or her seat.  At present, Cong. Niki Tsongas represents all of Sudbury, Lincoln, and most of Wayland.  One precinct of Wayland, the southwest corner, is represented by Cong. Edward Markey.  These outlines will most likely change.  Whether they change in a way that renews cries of gerrymandering is unknown, but recent criticisms about Democratic domination of the process, gerrymandering, and the current configuration begs a retelling of an interesting story I just heard at the State House.

A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws, Representative Michael J. Moran of Brighton, who is also the House chair of the Redistricting Committee. Chairman Moran recounted a story told to him this February in Washington DC by a very reliable source that the strange shape of Cong. Barney Frank’s current congressional district stems from the influence of former GOP U.S. Speaker of the House Joseph Martin. Seeking more Republican support to retain his seat after the 1960 census, the story goes that Rep. Martin appealed to have towns such as Wellesley connected via a thin line to his native North Attleboro. Despite the gerrymander, Rep. Martin lost the seat just a few years later. Cong. Frank’s current district reflects this same thin SW to NE sliver of towns.

At the State House, we will use data from the 2010 Census to ensure fair and equal representation for all Massachusetts residents.  Data to be released this week will show exactly how the population around the Commonwealth has changed in the past 10 years.  Chairman Moran has vowed to make it “the most transparent and open” redistricting process ever.  He will co-chair twelve public hearings around the state from now until through June.  There will also be a website, so be ready to search the web for that shortly.  Maps and case law will be available.  The redistricting process will be completed prior to this November, as candidates for the 2012 election must be living in their districts for at least one year prior to the forthcoming election.

To all of you who filled out forms and responded to US Census volunteers — about 77% of the citizens around the country did so — a hearty thank you.  Without your help, we would not be able to maintain the integrity of this important aspect of our democracy and representative government.

Tom Conroy is state representative for Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland and can be reached at Thomas.Conroy@mahouse.gov or 617-722-2430.

*http://www.uschamber.com/press/releases/2010/february/us-chamber-backs-census-bureaus-effort-accurately-count-nations-population

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