Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Massachusetts to lose a Congressional seat?

According to a recent study, population shifts and Hurricane Katrina, could change Congressional districts around the country: ["PDF"].
New Hampshire would need another 376,000 people moving into the state in order to gain a third Congressional seat and that isn't going to happen any time soon, never mind by 2010. But also included in the study is the potential loss of one seat in Massachusetts. This is very interesting and could create a total free for all in that state before 2010.
While it is only a few years away, I don't see any of the current representatives giving up their seats any time soon. They are essentially representatives for life. Throw in the fact that the Democrats will soon be in control of the Congress and it's a given that none of them will want to leave - never mind be shoved out. This means that if the data is true, there will have to be a primary between two of the existing incumbents sometime around 2012.
I don't have any of the specific data readily available at the moment as far as precinct by precinct populations. This is needed in order to really get creative. But let's do a little speculating here just for the fun of it.

Redistricting
There is a good chance the entire state would have to be redistricted. This would be a good thing for everyone involved. Let's start with the western part of the state and work our way east.
I don't suspect that the 1st District, currently represented by John Olver, will get any bigger than it is. In area, it is practically 40 percent of the state. It is too big for one person to represent, IMHO. Granted, redistricting Congressional districts has nothing to do with area. It is all about population. But the way the map looks now, the guy has too much turf.
There could be changes though to the 1st and 2nd District, represented by Richard Neal, which could create smaller area districts in the most western part of the state, one on top of the other, almost like pancakes. In this kind of scheme, the 1st would push forward into the 5th District's territory - currently represented by Marty Meehan - with the 2nd pushing into the 3rd District - currently represented by Jim McGovern. A new 3rd could be created from the western part of that district - essentially Worcester - and some parts east - running into the 5th and 7th, which is currently represented by Ed Markey.
The second part which could be accomplished is a revamping of the middle districts of the state. The middle state districts - especially the 4th, which is currently represented by Barney Frank - are gerrymandered jokes. The 4th squiggles around like a dancing snake from a basket. It is bizarre to say the least. The 3rd, 9th and 10th also have little consistency to them. The 3rd runs from Swansea, up the side of Rhode Island, to Worcester, in almost a quill pen shape. The 4th runs from Buzzards Bay all the way up to Newton and Brookline, almost like a deformed claw. The bulk of the 9th, currently represented by Stephen Lynch, isn't so bad especially in the middle cluster. It just goes all the way up through Southie and into the North End! The 10th also isn't too bad when you consider that it includes all of the Cape and most of the seashore south of Boston. But it is odd shaped running from Quincy on down. Bill Delahunt represents the area and "lives" in Quincy. Hence the odd shape.
The creation of these districts were based on two factors - one relevant; one not: The standard districting population numbers and where the incumbent representative lived in 2002. But where a current elected official lives should have nothing to do with the process of redistricting. This was something I brought up countless times while living in the state and watching politics there. But alas, it is Massachusetts, which means that Democratic incumbents are protected at all costs. There were some citizens groups looking at the redistricting process but I think that was more about protecting incumbents and keeping an eye on then-Speaker of the House Tom Finneran, who was later indicted for perjury over the redistricting issue [Does anyone recall whatever became of his case?].

Splitting up the 8th or 9th?
The 8th District, currently served by Michael Capuano, is the alleged minority-majority district even though a minority has little chance of winning the seat. No matter what they do to "set aside" districts, minorities have had difficulty winning primaries in Massachusetts. Deval Patrick is the one exception; Andrea Cabral, who was challenged by Stephen Murphy for the Suffolk County Sheriff's seat, is another. But in an eight or 10-way race for Congress, both Cabral and Patrick would lose, especially when competing against ethic whites, super-progressives, and millionaires, in Congressional races.
No one seems to be pushing Mike out any time soon either, that we know of. So why bother worrying about the set aside district? Well, it makes the redistricters feel good about trying to do something for minorities when in fact, it isn't anything at all. Which seems silly if you really think about it.
However, in the wake of losing a Congressional seat, there could be a move on to eliminate the 8th or the 9th District seats. The logic would be to push one of the two newest members of Congress out: Capuano was elected in 1998; Lynch in 2001 after the passing of Joe Moakley. The others could say, "Hey Mike and Stevie, fuggetaboutit ... one of youse is outta here."
Possible scenarios for this could be shifting Somerville into the 7th and splitting up the 8th evenly between the 9th and 4th, with other districts shifting west; or moving the 9th's Boston neighborhoods into the 8th and split up the 9th amongst the 4th and 10th, with the other districts, again, moving west. The former would be a way of pushing Capuano out with the latter, pushing Lynch out. The shift of Somerville into the 7th was floated quietly back in 2002 but never made any headway.
Let's take the Somerville move first.
Capuano would have two choices: Face off against Markey in the new 7th or sell his nice house on the hill and buy a condo somewhere in the rest of the 8th. This would mean facing off against the other person for the 8th, more than likely, either Lynch or Frank, depending on where the redistricting went or where Capuano bought the new house.
Facing off against Markey would be Capuano's best option because he could beat Markey in a bloody primary [It would be great to see how the media covered such a race and it would be a fun race to cover]. Here is why I think Capuano would beat Markey. First, Capuano is a rough-and-tumble pol compared to Markey being kind of an empty suit. Second, the 7th is more Italian than ever. It was more Irish when Markey was elected in the 1970s. Not any more. Third, the area is more college-oriented, young people oriented, and yuppie-oriented than before. Which do you think is more in touch with these constituents? Fourth, Markey is clueless on a slew of issues. He is a paper tiger at best, having voted for the stupid invasion of Iraq, terrible trade bills, and the 1996 Telecom Bill which consolidated TV and radio stations into a handful of corporations. Capuano has been a solid progressive since being elected. Capuano would get the more liberal votes in the district. Advantage: Capuano.
Let's take a look at the other option.
Shifting Boston's other neighborhoods into the 8th would essentially put Lynch out of work. It would be an interesting race but Capuano would probably prevail. While Lynch would take Southie and Dorchester easily, Capuano would hang onto Somerville and Eastie. The fight would then go down to Boston and Cambridge, with Capuano beating out the pro-life Lynch in those areas easily. Chelsea would probably be a toss up. Advantage: Capuano.
The 8th could also be totally split apart, gobbled up by bordering the 4th, 7th, and 9th.
That has happened in the past when Massachusetts has lost seats. While it is considered "The historic 8th District" - even the Chicago Tribune had an article on the great 1998 race - it has changed since the days when JFK and Tip O'Neill represented it.
Splitting apart the 8th, however, would create a whole slew of other problems, specifically, the metropolitan area being represented by three separate representatives instead of two. That could be a net positive though - especially the creation of more realistic districts in the southern part of the state which is seeing the most growth. The urban compact would also get more clout with three representatives thinking about it instead of two.
However, having Capuano face off against Lynch or Frank, in hypothetical primaries with a split up 8th, would almost be doom for him. Lynch has Southie locked up and I don't know if Capuano could compete for votes in places like Brockton, Norwood, and Milton. He would say he could, but I doubt it. Frank, a "minority," he's openly gay, would easily out liberal Capuano and beat him in the more progressive areas of the 8th, like Cambridge. Frank is also solid in places like Brookline and Newton.
Since the state Legislature decides how things are redistricted, neither Capuano nor Lynch, or frankly, any other incumbent Congressman, has any control over how the process goes. Lynch, a former state Senator, would probably have more influence over the Legislature than Capuano. There are also a lot of conservative Irish pols still on Beacon Hill who would probably back Lynch. But there are also very liberal members of the Legislature who probably wouldn't be too keen on eliminating a staunchly pro-choice and progressive Congressman [Capuano] over a very conservative, pro-life Congressman [Lynch] who also voted for the invasion of Iraq and other Bush policies. Advantage: Lynch, although very slim.

Other dynamics
Throw in these dynamics too: The gubernatorial seat could be open again in 2010, assuming Deval Patrick only serves one term or is elevated to the Senate in some way; Sen. Edward Kennedy's seat will more than likely be up in 2012, although Teddy has given no indication that he plans on retiring any time soon; and Another presidential election will be occurring in 2012 and there is always the dynamic of that, although I don't see any of the current Congressional membership - or Sen. John Kerry, for that matter - being presidential timber by that time.
The larger point to all this speculating is the fact that potentially losing this one Congressional seat creates an interesting dynamic in the state. What would happen if some truly independent people were allowed to sit down with all the numbers and were given the chance to map the state in a way which is best for the state and the voters? What would happen if these people were allowed to look at the data without any preconceived agendas, biases, or any regard to where incumbents lived? The state might actually get some real representation and a fairer democracy.
You can do your own speculating by looking at the Secretary of State's map here: ["Massachusetts Congressional Districts"], looking up some population numbers, noodling around a bit. It will be a fun experiment over the next few years, to say the least.

1 comment:

David Eisenthal said...

(This comment also appears in my own blog, The Eisenthal Report.)

Your scenario of combining the seats of Mike Capuano and Steve Lynch makes sense if you assume that nothing changes between now and 2012. Targeting the junior members of a congressional delegation is common when a state loses seats in Congress. In 1982, Barney Frank - then the junior member of the Massachusetts delegation - faced Margaret Heckler, one of two Republicans then representing Massachusetts in Congress, and defeated her.

However, I return to my scenario because my sense is that John Olver will be around for only a few terms at most. I mentioned an Olver retirement in 2012. Another possibility is that he will leave before 2012. Someone like Stan Rosenberg or Andy Nuciforo could be sitting in that seat in 2012 - and that individual would be the junior member of the delegation at the time.