Berkshire County’s population fell, and so will the number of House members it sends to Beacon Hill, lawmakers signaled this week.
Ten years ago, and despite a population loss then, too, lawmakers fought for, and kept, four Berkshire seats in the House of Representatives. But, no such optimism exists this time: Where most parts of the state grew, 2020 census numbers showed another decline in Berkshire County’s population.
Every 10 years, after the U.S. census, the House redraws a map that matches each of its 160 members with a district representing a certain number of people.
This year, the final version is expected Nov. 8. And that version will show Berkshire County can only muster three, not its current four, House districts.
“That is going to happen, and that has been in the making for more than 10 years,” said Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, a member of the Legislature’s Special Joint Committee on Redistricting. “With the numbers we have, we just couldn’t hold on any longer in justifying four Berkshire seats, and it shouldn’t be a surprise.”
Changes in the map, though, are not expected to pit current Berkshire lawmakers in races against each other. Two lawmakers — state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, and state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru — are believed to be eyeing runs for new offices, and their decisions likely would impact how maps are redrawn.
The 2020 census tallied 129,026 residents in Berkshire County, a decrease of 2,193, or 1.7 percent, from a decade ago.
Mark, who chaired the House Committee on Redistricting in the 2017-18 and 2019-20 legislative sessions, has said he expects newly redrawn districts to include 41,740 to 46,133 residents. The current ratio is one House member to about 40,000 people.
All four Berkshire districts fell below 41,000 in the 2020 count, which recorded 38,294 people in the 1st Berkshire District, 40,956 people in the 2nd Berkshire District, 40,989 people in the 3rd Berkshire District and 39,595 people in the 4th Berkshire District.
The 2nd Berkshire District, which Mark represents, could be redrawn as a Franklin County district.
That district already includes 10 communities in Franklin County, and the Franklin County city of Greenfield accounts for about 43 percent of the district’s population. More than two-thirds of the district’s residents live in Franklin County, although the district includes the Berkshire towns of Dalton, Hinsdale, Savoy and Windsor, as well as Ward 1B in Pittsfield.
Elected officials’ decisions on whether to pursue reelection often shape redistricting, and this year is no different.
Hinds soon will announce whether he pursues reelection or runs for lieutenant governor, with some in Democratic circles expecting him to pick the latter. If Hinds’ Senate seat opens, Mark is expected to run for that seat.
Mark’s plans, which hinge upon Hinds’ decision, might influence the redistricting committee’s House maps.
On the committee, Farley-Bouvier said she was asked to make recommendations for Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire county districts.
“My responsibilities include drawing maps for two scenarios: one for when Paul Mark is part of the House delegation and one for if he isn’t,” Farley-Bouvier said.
Hinds, another member of the redistricting committee, said he has voiced his commitment to keep his district, which he has said must add 15,000 to 20,000 in population, “Berkshire-centric.”
“I’ve been fighting for that in the redistricting committee, and I’m encouraged with the direction things are going right now,” Hinds said.
The 1st Berkshire District, represented by state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, is expected to take on additional communities, as is the 4th Berkshire District, currently the largest geographically in the state, represented by state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox.
Both said they expect to adapt to whatever the new maps look like.
Barrett said that while he expects the likely expansion of districts to pose “a greater challenge,” he remains “confident that we’re still going to have good representation because we’re all experienced.”
Pignatelli said cooperation between lawmakers can help ensure “three solid Berkshire seats with the three of us working very closely together.”
While lawmakers said a map released this week from the Drawing Democracy Coalition might influence how the committee draws Eastern Massachusetts districts, they do not expect the map to affect Berkshire districts.
The proposal would have increased the number of majority-minority House districts from 20 to 29, but it would have merged Mark’s and Pignatelli’s district into a district running from the southwest corner of the state up to Clarksburg, which borders Vermont.
While Berkshire lawmakers say they support the mission of creating more majority-minority districts, they believe that goal can be pursued with less disruption to Berkshire County districts.
All 160 House seats and 40 Senate seats are up for reelection Nov. 8, 2022. House candidates must live in their district for a year before the election, so, the Legislature aims to complete its work on redistricting by Nov. 8 this year.