Our communities should no longer be held hostage to the whims of leadership or the political needs of incumbents. Let’s take the politics out of redistricting and unite our communities once again.
Massachusetts is the birthplace of America, public education and many other historic achievements.
However, Massachusetts is also the birthplace of gerrymandering, the sad time-honored tradition of drawing the political map to protect the status quo and punish political enemies. This political process — where representatives select their voters instead of the other way around — divides our communities and limits political competition.
Ten years ago, the Massachusetts Legislature conducted its once-in-a-decade redistricting process. In both Senate and House redistricting, Melrose and Wakefield came up on the short end of the stick.
In the state Senate, leadership decided to carve out two wards in Melrose –– wards that are now quite ably represented by Sen. Tom McGee, D-Lynn. In a move that clearly favored the sitting senator, Melrose was split so that Lynnfield — part of the senator’s old House district — could be added to his new district.
In the House of Representatives, the heavy hand of former Speaker Tom Finneran in the process is well chronicled. Finneran used redistricting to punish his enemies and support the Republicans who helped elect him as speaker. When Finneran’s plan was challenged in court, a three-judge panel described it as sacrificing fairness to the voters “on the altar of incumbency protection.”
One result of these machinations: The sitting state representative for Wakefield took a job with the Bush administration, and the town of Wakefield was split between two legislative districts for the first time. This certainly has not helped Wakefield in its effort to get its fair share of education aid.
While it is impossible to completely remove politics from redistricting, we can restore some confidence in the process with a few common sense reforms. First, we should take the redistricting process out of the hands of the Legislature by creating an independent, nonpartisan commission to draw electoral districts.
The Legislature could approve or disapprove the plan by an up-or-down vote — without amendments. The commission would operate under guidelines requiring it to keep towns and cities intact whenever possible. Furthermore, the commission’s proceedings would be open to the public.
We need to restore the public’s faith in state government. Redistricting only comes around once every 10 years. But 10 years ago, it led to political infighting, retribution, lawsuits and the indictment and conviction of then-Speaker Finneran.
Most importantly, it led to split districts for Melrose and Wakefield. Our communities should no longer be held hostage to the whims of leadership or the political needs of incumbents. Let’s take the politics out of redistricting and unite our communities once again.
Paul Brodeur, a Democrat from Melrose, is running for the 32nd Middlesex District state representative seat. He faces Republican David Lucas, also of Melrose.