Redistricting at the State House

This week, the Massachusetts legislature voted to put in place a new map of state representative and state senate districts, stemming from the results of the United States Census that was conducted in 2010, and finalized in March of this year.

For the past five years, it has been my honor and privilege to represent all of the people of Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland as the 13th Middlesex district state representative.  But upon seeing the reconfiguration of the district within the new map, I told the legislative leadership that I was quite dissatisfied and would be proposing changes. 

Here’s what is different between the current district and the new district, which will go into effect in January 2013:

  • The fourth precinct in Wayland, consisting of the eastern portion of the town, will become part of the 14th Norfolk district, consisting of all of Weston and all of Wellesley, currently represented by Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), who is — and this is the silver lining — the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Education.  Education-conscious Wayland will be well-served with the addition of Rep. Peisch’s advocacy, undoubtedly.
  • Lincoln will join with Waltham in a shift to the 9th Middlesex, which is represented admirably by Tom Stanley (D-Waltham).  Lincoln and Waltham currently share several common transportation issues, including Route 128 and Route 117.
  • Three precincts in eastern Marlborough will join the 13th Middlesex, in essence as a replacement for Lincoln’s shift away.
  • One precinct in Framingham will join the 13th Middlesex, to make up for lost population in the 13th Middlesex per the census. 

 The reasons for the change are several. 

  • First, the district needed to change because it lost population and was below the threshold for the minimum population per district.
  • Second, the redistricting committee starts shifting precincts at the inflexible edges of the state, both the ocean and the borders with surrounding states.  Those districts can’t shift but in one direction, which forces the districts at center of the state (i.e. around the 13th Middlesex) to change more often and more dramatically. 
  • Third, several districts west of the 13th Middlesex gained population, which pulled the 13th westward in order to absorb some of those additional voters. 
  • Fourth, a couple of towns bordering the district that had been split in the previous redistricting of 2000, namely Lexington and Natick, were made whole again this time.  That blocked shifts by the 13th Middlesex into those towns. 

 I was not expecting these kinds of changes, given the meetings I had with House leadership on the topic over the past several months.  In those meetings, I explained the need to keep Lincoln and Sudbury together, given that the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School binds the two.  I also explained my interest keeping all three towns whole, rather than breaking off a precinct or two.  In discussing which precinct to add to address the district’s population shortfall, we discussed the precinct in Framingham that was eventually added.

During the recent open comment period — the nearly two weeks after the new map was unveiled on October 18 — I met with the leadership a third time to express my dissatisfaction.  I also asked interested citizens from Lincoln, Sudbury, and Wayland to submit their comments to me and the Redistricting Committee.

In the meeting with leadership, I argued passionately about changing the district back to its original shape.  I vowed to investigate alternatives that would return the district to its original form.  And indeed, last week I made several attempts to do so.  I had about six state representatives on board with some proposed changes that would have affected their districts.  For every precinct I gained back (i.e. Wayland’s fourth), I needed to get the assent of the proposed new state rep (e.g. Alice Peisch).  I was successful winning flexibility and charting a new map in this direction, but more difficult to manage were the proposed changes for the precinct I needed to shed (i.e. one in Marlborough, each average about 3,600 people).  Ultimately, I worked changes to the west all the way to Worcester and to the east all the way to Belmont, and had several state reps on board, each picking up or shedding a new precinct.  Ultimately, however, I was about 400 residents away from making it work within the numerical constraints of how many people at minimum and maximum could be in each district. 

I remain somewhat saddened about this new map.  I plan on voting against it as an expression of the reluctance I have heard from constituents about it, and of my own dissatisfaction with the new configuration. 

Of course, as with all matters, I try to keep a good perspective, and hope you can too.  This could be an opportunity to learn more about diverse municipalities and people, representing two residential towns, and parts of (essentially) two cities, with different needs, challenges, and aspirations.  It could be a very interesting mix. 

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