Advocates and residents on Friday pressed legislative map makers to consider redrawing newly unveiled state Senate districts encompassing Brockton and Haverhill, arguing that the lines, as proposed, could dilute the political power of each of the cities’ growing minority populations.
House and Senate leaders took hours of testimony on the redrawn state legislative districts that they unveiled this week, an effort that, among other goals, aimed to dramatically increase the number of majority-minority districts in both the Massachusetts House and Senate.
Advocacy groups praised the overall efforts, which would add 13 new such districts in the 160-member House and two in the 40-member Senate. But while those testifying asked for changes in places ranging from Western Massachusetts to MetroWest, Haverhill and Brockton were often focal points.
Advocates and elected officials particularly warned that the new district in the Merrimack Valley could have unintended consequences for Haverhill, a city that, under the proposal, would be split into a newly drawn majority-minority district anchored by Lawrence.
“It’s a disaster for Haverhill,” Mayor James J. Fiorentini told lawmakers, warning that should the new district be approved it would “guarantee” that a candidate of color from Haverhill won’t be elected to the state Senate seat. (State Representative Andy Vargas, a Haverhill Democrat, had already announced plans to run for the Senate district before the new boundaries were revealed, and would likely have a harder time competing in a newly constituted district.)
“Left on its own, Haverhill has a very good chance of having minority representation,” Fiorentini said.
Several groups similarly urged lawmakers to reconsider Brockton’s Senate district, where New England’s only Black-majority city would remain clustered with mostly white suburbs south of Boston. Advocates have pushed for a map that would group Brockton with Randolph, a 35,000-person community, where like Brockton, roughly 70 percent of the residents are people of color. Currently, Brockton is represented by an all-white State House delegation.
“We cannot wait another 10 years for the greater Brockton area to have representation that is more reflective of the ideological, racial, ethnic, economic, and linguistic diversity that exists in that community,” said Tanisha M. Sullivan, president of the NAACP Boston branch and a Brockton native.
It’s unclear how much appetite lawmakers have for reworking large swaths of their proposed maps. They’re aiming to pass the legislative maps into law by the first week of November, largely because lawmakers in the House are required to live in their district at least a year ahead of next fall’s election. Significantly redrawing one district could also have a wider impact on any number of others they’ve proposed.
“We keep going back to Brockton,” said state Senator William N. Brownsberger, who led the effort for the Senate. “We’ve gone back to it again and again . . . looking for what we could do here within the bounds of the law. We will continue to double-check our thinking on that.”
State Representative Michael J. Moran, who led the House’s redistricting effort, also said it’s unclear if Governor Charlie Baker would agree to the maps the Legislature sends to his desk because unlike the last redistricting effort a decade ago, when Deval Patrick was governor, Baker “is not a member of the Democratic Party.”
Lawmakers have said they’ll collect public comments on the map until Monday.