Incumbent politicians like things just as they are. It’s comfortable. And it affords voters the opportunity to have their representatives build up the kind of seniority in Congress that leads to enhanced power on the national scene. But, as with all games of musical chairs, take away one seat, and change in inevitable.
Redistricting jars the comfortable. As Congressman Jim McGovern admitted to the New England Council on Tuesday, it’s hard to give up communities you’ve represented. You’ve built up relationships and invested “blood, sweat and tears” in your constituents’ well-being. In the redrawing of congressional district lines, Worcester-based McGovern has to give up Fall River, where he enjoyed overwhelming support.
Sixty-four percent of his district will be new to McGovern, but the liberal Democrat actually made out pretty well by picking up the college towns of Northampton and Amherst and surrounding communities , where his anti-war and anti-poverty concerns should find favor.
Not all his colleagues made out as well. Plans to put heavily Democratic Lawrence into John Tierney’s district, were scuttled when Senate President Therese Murray took steps to protect Niki Tsongas, the only female member of the delegation. His district took on more Republicans in Tewksbury, Billerica and part of Andover. Now the eight-term Democratic incumbent from Salem will likely face a credible Republican in the person of Senate minority leader Richard Tisei of Wakefield. This isn’t like running against a fringe Republican like Bill Hudak, a “birther” who ran against Tierney during the last congressional election. If Tisei faces off against Hudak in a primary race in 2012, Tierney strategist Michael Goldman says it may pull Tisei further to the right, making Tierney’s reelection bid easier. But, with Tierney dogged by the legal case against his wife’s family, charges in which Tierney himself has never been implicated, it’s a race that bears watching.
First-term Congressman Bill Keating, who moved to Quincy to run for his current district, will now be moving to his summer home in Bourne so he doesn’t have to run against incumbent Congressman Stephen Lynch in the new district comprising Southeast Massachusetts and Cape Cod. A map shows how much more compact that district has become, and that is surely a good thing. But Lynch’s district looks like a salamander that would make Gov. Elbridge Gerry proud.
The redrawing of Congressman Michael Capuano’s district, which now has a majority of minority residents, should, in the next few terms, facilitate for the first time a minority congressman or woman.
All these moves, and more, while being incumbent friendly, make Massachusetts’ new congressional map much more in tune with what the courts have described as fair district lines, with communities equal in population, more compact and more contiguous. The committee drawing the lines is to be congratulated. It’s hard to think the Massachusetts House and Senate will balk at the plan.
Would that the rest of the country did the same. The truth is that we are essentially a two-party system, and voters can only benefit from vigorous debate in districts where the outcome is not preordained. Part of the problem in Congress is that too many members come from ideologically pure districts of the right or left, and when in office feel no pressure or incentives to compromise. Believe it or not, long term incumbents themselves benefit from being validated by an informed electorate. With redistricting behind us, the next step is to get an informed electorate!
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