Mass. loses 1 of its 10 seats in US House

By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press / December 21, 2010

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BOSTON—Massachusetts will lose one of its 10 seats in the U.S. House as its population growth failed to keep pace with western and southern states, setting the stage for a potentially contentious redistricting debate.

The blow to the state's political pride and muscle came Tuesday as the Census Bureau released state population totals that dictate how the nation reapportions all 435 House districts to the states.

The Massachusetts population grew 3.1 percent over the past decade to a total of 6,547,629 residents in the 2010 census. That compares with a national increase of 9.7 percent for a total of 308,745,538 people living in the U.S.

Massachusetts' growth rate mirrored the Northeast region as a whole, which grew at 3.2 percent. New Hampshire had the most robust growth in the region at 6.5 percent while Rhode Island had the smallest growth at just 0.4 percent.

The Northeast placed last among the nation's four regions, well behind the South, which grew at 14.3 percent and the West, which saw 13.8 percent growth. The Midwest also saw relatively anemic growth at just 3.9 percent.

Massachusetts is the only New England state to lose a seat in Congress.

Other states that saw their House delegations drop by one seat include: Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. New York and Ohio each lost two seats.

It's now up to state lawmakers to draw new congressional district lines. The new map must be completed in time for the 2012 elections.

Gov. Deval Patrick said that despite the loss, the state's delegation will still have plenty of "clout and effectiveness." He said that while drawing new congressional districts is inherently political, voters must have confidence in the final map.

"It's a political process, so there's some give and take. but there are rules," he said. "There are constitutional rules. There are common sense rules. And I expect those rules to be respected."

A decade ago, Massachusetts narrowly hung onto all 10 of its House seats after losing a seat in 1990. In the 2000 census the state reported 5.5 percent growth.

A century ago, Massachusetts had 16 seats in Congress.

None of Massachusetts' 10 House members, all Democrats, have indicated that their upcoming term would be their last, although two -- Michael Capuano and Stephen Lynch -- have been mentioned as possible candidates against Republican Sen. Scott Brown in 2012.

Some members, including representatives Niki Tsongas, John Olver and Richard Neal have said publicly they plan to run for reelection. A spokesman for Rep. Barney Frank said the longtime Democrat hasn't said whether he'll run again.

Robert DeLeo, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, called the loss of the seat "unfortunate."

"The people of Massachusetts deserve the number of voices and representatives that are currently in Washington fighting for families and individuals," said DeLeo, D-Winthrop.

House Republican leader Brad Jones warned the state's slow population growth could end up costing the state federal funding.

The lost seat is bad news for Democrats who have seen the nation's population shift from Democratic strongholds like Massachusetts to Republican-leaning Sun Belt states.

Massachusetts bucked the national GOP trend in November, when all nine Democratic incumbents won re-election and the state's one open seat went to the Democratic candidate.

The last time Massachusetts lawmakers waded into a redistricting debate a decade ago, the process ended in court with former House Speaker Thomas Finneran, a Democrat, pleading guilty to a federal obstruction of justice charge after he denied playing a role in drawing districts for the new Massachusetts state House map.

That has prompted some in Massachusetts, including Democratic Secretary of State William Galvin and Republican lawmakers, to call for an independent redistricting commission, something legislative leaders have brushed aside, including Sen. President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth.

DeLeo has also shown little appetite for an independent commission.

State GOP Party Chairman Jennifer Nassour, who has called for a commission, blamed the state's sluggish population growth on high taxation, expensive housing and "onerous business regulations" brought on by the status quo on Beacon Hill.

"Let's not allow the politicians to compound their mistakes with shameless gerrymandering," Nassour said.

Alejandra St. Guillen, executive director Oiste?, a Massachusetts group aimed at electing Latinos, said the voting rights of racial minorities and ethnic and cultural groups must be protected in any new congressional districts.

"It will be critically important that all communities throughout the state take part in this process," Guillen said.

Jim Brett, chief executive of the New England Council, headed the Massachusetts House's redistricting committee in 1991.

Brett said that while an independent commission makes sense, it's too late this time around. He also said fewer members of Congress will make it harder to protect Massachusetts' interests.

"We're losing clout when we lose seats," Brett said. "We have seasoned experienced lawmakers so I think we'll pick up the difference, but it's not good to begin sending fewer and fewer voices to Washington."