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Lawmakers propose new congressional maps for Mass.

Lawmakers on Monday proposed new lines for the state's nine US House districts.
Lawmakers on Monday proposed new lines for the state's nine US House districts.Special joint committee on redistricting

Massachusetts lawmakers on Monday unveiled a plan to retool the state’s nine congressional districts that reorganizes several of their boundaries but avoids the dramatic overhaul that defined the redistricting process a decade ago, when the state lost one of its seats on Capitol Hill.

In one notable change this year, mapmakers proposed putting all of Fall River into a district currently represented by Jake Auchincloss, a freshman congressman from Newton, after the city spent 10 years split between his Fourth District and the Ninth District represented by William Keating.

But the plan would still keep that city and nearby New Bedford in separate districts, disappointing advocates who pushed lawmakers to group the South Coast communities together in a single seat to amplify the voices of the immigrant and minority populations they share.

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Senator William N. Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat and the Senate chairman of the Legislature’s redistricting committee, said lawmakers got “clear feedback to unify” Fall River into one district. But legislative leaders indicated they also had to juggle other demands beyond calls to ensure it and New Bedford shared representation.

“There’s always a path to bring communities together,” state Representative Michael J. Moran, the House chairman of the redistricting committee. But, he added, “you have to take into account all the principles and some history and the geography and the numbers.”

In the hours after the map’s release, the decision became a flashpoint about the proposal, which largely nipped and tucked the edges of many districts and increased the share of people of color in the Seventh District, the state’s only majority-minority district, currently represented by Ayanna Pressley of Boston.

The proposed lines from leaders in the Democratic-controlled Legislature would not pit any of the state’s nine incumbent Democrats against one another, a major change from 10 years ago.

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The committee is expected to take public feedback on the map through Nov. 9. Votes in each chamber will follow. But advocates and a South Coast lawmaker were quick to criticize the handling of the region Monday.

State Senator Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat, said his city and Fall River share economic interests, including the development of offshore wind, better commuter rail service to the region, and advanced manufacturing. They also both have growing minority populations, with Latinos making up roughly 11 percent of Fall River and 21 percent of New Bedford.

“Dividing our cities into separate congressional districts dilutes our collective voice and must not be allowed to continue,” Montigny said.

The map also would slightly reshape the First and Second Congressional sistricts, with the latter — currently represented by James McGovern — bleeding west into towns such as Chesterfield in Hampshire County and Heath on the Vermont border. Meanwhile, it would cede parts of southern Worcester County to the First District and its current congressman, Richard E. Neal, in a reflection of population shifts eastward since the last Census.

For Neal, who first joined Congress in 1989, it also means a return to familiar territory. Beyond Belchertown, a town of roughly 15,300 people that the First District would gain, Neal said, he has represented every other town or city in the newly proposed boundaries at some point in his congressional career.

“It might be new now but it’s not new new,” said the Springfield Democrat, who described the proposed changes for the region as “some stitching up here or there.”

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The proposal is expected to avoid the political pain of 10 years ago, when lawmakers — faced with losing one of Massachusetts’s then 10 congressional seats following the 2010 Census — made wholesale changes: They created an entirely new district representing Cape Cod, revamped how Western Massachusetts was represented and expanded the only district that had a majority of residents of color.

The moves prompted Keating to move to his Cape home, and Representative Barney Frank later retired rather than seek reelection in a dramatically changed district.

Congressman John Olver, an Amherst Democrat, also announced that fall he would retire, avoiding a showdown between incumbents in that part of the state.

This year, mapmakers were faced with creating districts with, or close to, a population of 781,102 after the 2020 Census showed 7,029,917 people living in Massachusetts, a 7.4 percent increase over the last decade that outpaced the growth rate in the region.

Under the proposal, the Seventh District, represented by Pressley, who is Black, would have a greater share of people of color living there, jumping from roughly 57 percent to 61.3 percent, according to legislators.

The district would still stretch from Somerville and Everett to Randolph south of Boston. But the shift in population was due in part to “natural growth,” Moran said.

Massachusetts House delegation clockwise from left, Jake Auchincloss, Katherine Clark, Bill Keating, Stephen Lynch, Jim McGovern, Ayanna Pressley, Lori Trahan, Richard Neal, and Seth Moulton.
Massachusetts House delegation clockwise from left, Jake Auchincloss, Katherine Clark, Bill Keating, Stephen Lynch, Jim McGovern, Ayanna Pressley, Lori Trahan, Richard Neal, and Seth Moulton.

The map does not impact either of the Senate seats held by Elizabeth Warren or Edward Markey, who represent the entire state.

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In the weeks before the map’s release, advocates had focused on pressing lawmakers to include New Bedford and Fall River in the same district. The Drawing Democracy Coalition had proposed grouping the cities into the Ninth District currently held by Keating, who represents the former and parts of the latter. A decade ago, mapmakers had sliced New Bedford from the Fourth District, a decision that Frank said factored into his decision to retire after spending four decades in elected politics.

This time, Fall River would fall entirely in Auchincloss’s district, which in turn would shed towns such as Hopkinton and Medway and cede part of Wellesley to the Fifth District, currently represented by Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat and the House’s assistant speaker.

Keating would keep New Bedford in his district, while gaining towns such as Bridgewater and Scituate and Cohasset on the South Shore.

“While we’re glad that the Redistricting Committee’s proposed map makes Fall River whole, it also misses a critical opportunity to better ensure that the immigrant, working-class communities of Fall River and New Bedford are united and empowered politically to elect candidates of their choice,” said advocate Dax Crocker. “We are incredibly disappointed that the Legislature did not listen to the voices of the people of Fall River and New Bedford, and we urge them to reconsider.”

Auchincloss released a statement shortly after the maps were released, praising the committee for keeping the Fourth District’s “vital diversity” of urban, suburban, and rural communities stretching from Newton and Brookline to the South Coast.

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Auchincloss carried the district’s part of Fall River in his September 2020 primary by winning 25 percent of the vote there, a showing that helped lift him in the nine-way Democratic race.

“Though the basic contours of the Fourth District persist, there is one major change. I am thrilled that all of Fall River will now be in the district,” Auchincloss said, touting his relationships with the city’s other elected officials, including at the State House. “I have been working to ensure Fall River builds back better from the pandemic. That work will continue with full force in this Congress and beyond.”

The release of Monday’s map followed lawmakers’ approval of new state legislative districts last week. Governor Charlie Baker has yet to act on the bill.

Globe correspondent Nick Stoico contributed to this report.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.