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The Download: Redistricting road show or sideshow?

Posted in: Demographics   Massachusetts Legislature   State of the States   Energy
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The Legislature’s redistricting road show debuted in Springfield last weekend, and the good people of western Mass. hit ‘em with everything they had.

Multiple pols noted that the region’s two congressmen, John Olver and Richard Neal, hold choicer committee posts than their counterparts in the state delegation. Neal himself echoed that point, saying he and Olver “regularly out-punched colleagues and contemporaries in terms of clout based upon committee assignments.” State Sen. Steven Brewer invoked the flooding of the Quabbin in asking the legislative redistricting committee “to fight like hell” to retain the region’s two seats in Washington. Agawam City Clerk Richard Theroux reasoned that the Boston area was already powerful enough, without shifting a Congressional seat eastward. “I'm just asking that you don't leave us behind in western Mass.,” he pleaded.

The same scene will likely be repeated in two weeks, when the redistricting committee pulls into Worcester, and then in May, when it makes stops in Brockton and Boston.

The Legislature’s redistricting leaders promised a robust public debate as their first line of defense against an independent map-drawing commission. But as the committee hits the road to ask Massachusetts residents how best to redraw political maps that condense the state’s 10-person congressional delegation into 9 new districts, it’s revealing a good deal of tension in the redistricting process: The Legislature wants the public to exert political pressure on a process that is ultimately based – and defended in federal court – on cold data.

Neal and Olver have both announced their intentions to run for reelection in 2012, but they’re up against some tough arithmetic. Their end of the state grew more slowly than the rest of the state. Olver represents Berkshire and Franklin counties, which both lost residents over the past decade. Olver’s district already stretches from the New York border to Middlesex County; in order to preserve it, the redistricting committee would have to shift it even further east.

The Census map isn’t much kinder to the rest of the state’s delegation. That’s because four reps – Ed Markey, Barney Frank, Michael Capuano and Steve Lynch – live so close to one another that it’s difficult to redraw their districts, meet legal one person/one vote mandates, and avoid forcing two incumbents into a brutal winner-take-all primary showdown. For instance, Capuano and Markey live just four miles from one another. Capuano’s hometown of Somerville is less than seven miles from Lynch’s South Boston, and roughly 10 miles from Frank’s Newton stronghold. A statewide barnstorming tour can’t change that math. At best, it offers the Legislature political cover to do what the Census data demands be done anyway.

                                                                                                                                                                                --PAUL MCMORROW

BEACON HILL

Mass. Taxpayers Foundation president Mike Widmer, who has been very critical of many state tax credit programs, says in a Globe op-ed coauthored with Boston Chamber of Commerce VP Jim Klocke that the so-called “Fidelity tax break,” which will be the subject of a State House hearing today, is sound policy.

A new Inspector General’s report uncovers millions of dollars in fraud and abuse in the state’s free health care pool.

The MetroWest Daily News criticizes the Legislature for its habitual slow start on the Bay State's pressing business.

Republican freshman Rep. Geoff Diehl says he was only trying to get kids excited about patriotism when he sent East Bridgewater and Whitman students home from a school event with flyers for a fundraiser for his campaign coffers.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston mayor Tom Menino says he is launching a “citywide” search for the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s next chief, though he may be tempted to look as far as Cambridge or Chelsea.

Shirley weighs a $1 million property tax override.

Pittsfield is disappointed with the results of its real estate tax amnesty plan.

Saugus plans to seek legislative approval for a one-time assessment on town property tax bills to pay snow and ice removal bills, the Item reports.

Lawrence ’s former acting economic development director seeks more than $220,000 in a lawsuit over unused sick, personal, and vacation time, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Eagle-Tribune, in an editorial, opposes the “radical anti-meat agenda” of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which offered to replace ratty carpets at the Haverhill City Hall with news ones bearing ads promoting the group’s vegetarian philosophy.

The Department of Revenue is withholding Lakeville’s quarterly local aid payment because the town accountant has still not submitted the final reconciliation from Fiscal Year 2010, which ended last June.

Greater Boston” is debuting a new series called “Where We Live,” which takes a look at how the economy is affecting the state’s cities and towns. First up: Lynn, Lynn, the city of . . . shoes.

WASHINGTON

Get ready for the shutdown: Democratic and Republican budget negotiators are at an impasse, while bickering budget has increased sharply, raising the likelihood of a government shutdown after April 8. One of the main sticking points: Which party will have to bear the brunt of public scorn. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blames the Tea Party contingent. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor believes the public will blame the Democrats.

ELECTION 2012

Haley Barbour, whose flirtation with a commemorative KKK license plate wounded his White House ambitions, parses the roots of abolition and the Civil War.

TRANSPORTATION

Senate Republicans prepare to grill the MBTA about its truly awful winter.

Another day, another T track fire.

HEALTH CARE

US News & World Report has issued its annual ranking of the top hospitals regionally and nationally. Most Boston-area hospitals perform well but Children’s Hospital Boston takes the cake, ranking first in five of the 10 specialty areas examined by the magazine and in the top three in the other half.

ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Thousands of plastic discs from a New Hampshire wastewater treatment plant have ended up on Cape Cod beaches.

A small fire at the Seabrook Nuclear Plant in New Hampshire raised concerns briefly, NECN reported.

Workers are testing the former North Quincy site of Work Inc. for possible contamination to determine its marketability after the 80-year-old building was demolished when the nonprofit moved its operations to Dorchester.

The National Review says the move to ban or tax plastic bags out of existence is a wrong-headed move that does little to save the environment while eliminating jobs at plastic bag manufacturers and recyclers.

EDUCATION

The East Longmeadow school committee praises its new superintendent and decides to toss out the "useless" evaluation tool created by a predecessor to assess a superintendent's job performance.

BOSTON ARCHDIOCESE

A former top official of the Boston archdiocese – who once defended the church against criticism related to clergy pensions – is now criticizing the archdiocese's handling of pensions for retired workers, the Globe reports.

CLASS WARFARE

In a classic Metro-column-as-populist-battering-ram offering, the Globe's Kevin Cullen calls out the owners of the Hancock Tower as heartless cheapskates for imposing a take-it-or-leave wage cut on the building's long-time security guards.

STATE OF THE STATES

Michigan cuts unemployment benefits by six weeks.

Indiana Democrats end their five-week state house walkout. Each lawmaker will be fined $3,150.

USA Today takes a look at how the new governors in Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, and California are shaking up politics in their home states and beyond.

LIBYA

Jon Keller watched President Obama’s speech on Libya last night with a group of future policymakers at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Left-learning University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole offers a ringing defense of military intervention in Libya on The Nation website.

The New Republic editors agree with Cole, and mostly liked what they heard last night from President Obama.

SMOOTH CRIMINALS

Two Quincy brothers steal US Rep. Bill Keating’s car – from his own driveway.

DOES WHATEVER A BILLIONAIRE CAN

Michael Bloomberg dresses up like Spider-Man.

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