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With redistricting underway, residents can write comments, testify at Friday public hearing

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House map

The Legislature’s proposed House map would trim Berkshire County’s four seats to three because of population trends.

Massachusetts residents have two ways to share their thoughts on the proposed Statehouse maps the Legislature released Tuesday.

At 1 p.m. Friday, a virtual hearing will allow members of the public to voice their opinions. Those who wish to testify can sign up to do so at tinyurl.com/2u4nbnkk. Also, residents can submit written comments until 5 p.m. Monday through malegislature.gov/Redistricting/Contact.

Presenting the Legislature’s proposals Tuesday, House Assistant Majority Leader Michael Moran, D-Brighton assured residents that “this process is not over.”

“If you have any reasonable suggestions on how we can maybe make them stronger or better, I will be more than happy to take yours into consideration,” Moran said.

The House proposal would cut Berkshire County’s four House seats to three, although county lawmakers expressed contentment Tuesday with the three districts that would remain. They see the lost seat as a mathematical necessity because of continued population loss but expressed confidence in their ability to represent the redrawn districts.

The county likely will avoid a battle between incumbents, since state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, is expected to run for the state Senate seat to be vacated by Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, who is running for lieutenant governor.

Statewide, the maps have garnered praise for increasing majority-minority House districts from 20 to 33 and majority-minority Senate districts from three to five, although some observers have voiced concerns with the Senate districts further east.

Beyond Berkshire County, Western Massachusetts lawmakers largely have celebrated the maps — especially the Senate proposal, which keeps six Senate seats based in the state’s four western counties.

Senators say they were shown an early proposal that would have cut the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden seat, dividing its territory between Sens. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and John Velis, D-Westfield.

“We joined together pretty unequivocally to advocate for keeping that seat,” Comerford said.

Comerford credited state Sen. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, a vice chair on the redistricting committee, for conveying lawmakers’ wishes to the committee, and she said Senate President Pro Tempore William Brownsberger, D-Belmont, who co-chairs the committee, was “exceedingly receptive” to their input.

Gobi will see about 40 percent of her district change, with other Western Massachusetts districts pushing eastward, but she said it was “very important to the six of us that we speak in a unified voice, that we did not want to lose any representation.” Brownsberger, she said, visited each district with its senator.

State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, also gave credit to Mark for promoting the census when Mark co-chaired the redistricting committee, and the 2020 census numbers exceeded previous estimates for Western Massachusetts. Lesser said the better-than-expected population numbers helped lawmakers’ case for keeping the six seats based in the four western counties.

Lesser said that he viewed the loss of one of those seats as “a real risk,” and that senators “set aside maybe individual priorities in order to maximize the region’s voice.”

On the House side, state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, said that despite the changes, she expects the region's House lawmakers to “continue to work united together to ensure that our voices are heard on Beacon Hill and that our needs are met.”

The House proposal would split the city of Greenfield, which is currently in Mark’s district, between Blais and state Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol. While Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner criticized the proposal and said all of Greenfield should fall in a single district, Blais and Whipps have yet to comment publicly about the Legislature’s plan for the city.

There are likely more issues that remain to be resolved further east. For example, the Senate proposal split the 67,787-resident city of Haverhill into two Senate districts, an arrangement that some lawmakers and local officials have sought to amend.

Western Massachusetts lawmakers also are looking beyond the current redistricting process. In order to avoid further population loss that leads to a similar situation in a decade, they are seeking to make headway on regional priorities such as transportation, job creation and broadband access.

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle’s Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.

Statehouse reporter

Danny Jin is the Eagle's Statehouse reporter. A graduate of Williams College, he previously interned at The Eagle and The Christian Science Monitor.

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