Does the Legislature truly want reform and transparency or just the status quo? The Legislature recently debated the way we will redistrict our legislative seats and I must say that I was disappointed in what was ultimately adopted by both the House and the Senate and sent to the Governor’s desk for his affirmation. You see, the Legislature had a great opportunity to change the way we do business. Before I begin to recap recent proceedings, let me give you a brief explanation of the history of district drawings.
Born in Marblehead in 1744, Elbridge Thomas Gerry was elected to a seat on the General Court of the province of Massachusetts in 1772. In the early 1800’s, Gerry ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Massachusetts. Finally elected in 1810, Governor Gerry suffered defeat in 1812 over his support for a redistricting bill that created the word “gerrymander”. Gerrymandering, a term derived from Governor Gerry’s name, is a political tactic still in use today which redraws boundaries of Congressional, legislative and Governor Council districts in order to favor certain political parties according to race, ethnicity, minority groups, and partisanship.
How bad has this process become here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? Just look back ten years and see that this process prompted litigation from three legislative districts against the State, one of which was found to be unconstitutional and disgraced a former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Changes need to happen!
Now back to the recent vote, the legislature was given an opportunity to implement these changes and take the politics out of this process. We could have ensured that although the term gerrymandering was created here, its practice would never again rear its ugly head in Massachusetts. House Republicans called for the creation of an independent commission to redraw and create legislative districts for members of Congress, the Legislature and the Governor’s Council, only to be outvoted and shot down by a majority of members on this crucial issue.
By the way, this wasn’t a Republican idea. This initiative was proposed by Common Cause and endorsed by the League of Women Voters, Governor Patrick, former Governor Mitt Romney, as well as dozens of newspapers throughout the Commonwealth. The Republican’s proposal would have created a commission consisting of a dean or professor of law, political science or government from a Massachusetts institution of higher learning appointed by the Governor; a retired justice appointed by the Attorney General; and an expert in civil rights law appointed by the Secretary of State. It would also allow the four legislative leaders to nominate three names to ensure balance on the commission.
This measure was defeated by a shocking 132-23 vote. What was even more puzzling about this vote was that prior to the actual vote being taken was that at least two dozen of my colleagues who voted against this measure actually co-sponsored legislation that would have done the same thing.
It is time for Republicans and Democrats alike, to work together to promote reform, honesty and transparency in our government. This reform has to start in our districts…it has to start on the borders of our cities and our towns and stretch to the ballot boxes…it has to start with your elected officials…it has to start with you. I implore you to hold us to task on these issues. Write us letters of support or even disagreement, write your own letters to the editor and let everyone know that you care about action and inaction on Beacon Hill. Otherwise, it will continue to be business-as-usual.