Keep two seats in W. Mass., Neal urges

Cites seniority, committee roles; House delegation to shrink by one

US Representative John Olver. US Representative John Olver.
By Bob Salsberg
Associated Press / April 22, 2011

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Western Massachusetts should be allowed to retain its two seats in the US House after the current redistricting process is concluded, Representative Richard Neal said yesterday.

Neal, of Springfield, dismissed as “mere speculation’’ that portions of his district could be folded in with parts of the district represented by John Olver of Amherst, as the Legislature’s redistricting committee determines how to go about reducing the state’s congressional House delegation from 10 members to nine.

“What is important in the redistricting argument is to keep two seats in Western Massachusetts,’’ said Neal, who was at the State House to participate in an Earth Day event.

Neal pointed out that he and Olver also represent large portions of Worcester County, along with Representative James McGovern of Worcester.

“When you keep two seats in Western Massachusetts, you keep three seats in Central Massachusetts,’’ Neal said.

Census Bureau figures released last month showed Worcester County’s population grew 6.3 percent in the last decade, the largest increase in the state aside from the small island counties, Dukes and Nantucket.

Olver represents all of Berkshire County, which lost 2.7 percent of its population since the last census in 2000.

But Neal said it was also important to note that Olver’s district encompasses 40 percent of the entire land mass of Massachusetts and combined with Neal’s district, covers more than half the state, geographically.

Neal said seniority in the House and key committee assignments should also be a factor in the redistricting process, though he stressed that he was not trying to “trespass’’ on the work of the redistricting committee.

Neal, 62, has been in the House since 1989 and serves on the Ways and Means Committee. Olver, 74, has represented the state’s First Congressional District since 1991 and is the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development.

The 24-member redistricting panel chaired by state Senator Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, and state Representative Michael Moran, a Boston Democrat, has opened hearings around the state as it prepares to redraw the congressional and legislative district maps.

Massachusetts is losing a seat in the House because of national population shifts over the past decade.

The process could result in two incumbent members of the House being forced to run against each other in 2012.

None of the incumbents, all Democrats, has given any indication that he or she does not plan to seek reelection.

However, Michael Capuano of Somerville and Stephen Lynch of Boston have been mentioned among several other possible challengers to Senator Scott Brown, a Republican, in next year’s election.