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The Download: Map quest

Posted in: Civic engagement   Economics   Education   Elections   Growth and development
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It’s a decennial dance that makes sausage-making look like an art form. Congressional redistricting, mandated every 10 years by the federal census, is once again playing out in all corners of the country. Massachusetts legislators, who have the added chore of fashioning nine districts out of 10 because of population growth in other areas of the country, are hoping their game of inside baseball won’t draw the ire of voters.

Many eyes will be on California, where a voter-approved 14-member independent commission will get down to its work of redrawing that state’s 53 districts. The amateur commission is under a mandate to ignore incumbency and many say that will lead to a number of current seat holders being redrawn into each other’s districts.

California becomes the seventh state to use an independent or bipartisan commission, while three other states also have independent panels but grant final approval power to their legislatures. Seven states have a single representative because of their small size.

Massachusetts is one of 36 states, including the three with limited independent commissions, that leave the redistricting up to the legislature and governor, and it has made for some serious shenanigans over the years. We are, after all, the birthplace of the pejorative term gerrymandering, for Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, whose redistricting map in the early 19th century resembled a serpentine salamander. (Historical note: The late US Rep. Gerry Studds claimed Gerry as an ancestor and said he was named after the former governor, envoy, and vice president, and insisted the term gerrymander should therefore be pronounced, as his first name was, with a hard “g.”)

A survey released this week by the MassINC Polling Group shows that residents overwhelmingly favor an independent commission in Massachusetts free from legislative control. They, like many others around the country, want logic to follow form in redistricting so communities aren’t divvied up like conquests and those with similar interests stay in the same districts, regardless of party affiliation.

Many will be watching how the Democratic-controlled Legislature redraws the 10 districts into nine. How it performs, and how the Democratic governor who must sign-off on any plan responds, could trigger a suit or initiative, much like California, Arizona and Florida. But some think the time has already passed to let the Legislature perform the function.

It seems that if California’s amateur cartographers reshape the state in a way that meets voter approval even if it costs them an incumbent or 12, the message will be sent to lawmakers everywhere: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

                                                                                                                                                                      --JACK SULLIVAN

EDUCATION

Robert Caret, an administrator with a strong track record in public higher ed systems in California and Maryland, will become the new president of UMass.  Caret drew particularly high marks for raising graduation rates among black and Hispanic students at Towson University in Maryland, where he currently is president.

A new report shows New Bedford has failed to keep pace with the MCAS scores of the other Gateway Cities over the last five years, according to the Standard-Times.

Students in Beverly and Salem scored a six-day weekend this week thanks to the snow, a teacher in-service day and Monday’s holiday.

Peabody officials plan to hire a design firm to plan renovations for Higgins Middle School, the Salem News reports.  The total project is expected to cost $35 million.

Methuen gets a $1.1 million federal grant to improve physical education in its schools, reports the Eagle-Tribune.

Dracut residents may see a $61 million upgrade to Dracut High School, and a temporary tax hike, if voters approve a proposal, reports the Sun.

The Globe reports on tsouris at the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst over flagging membership numbers and a change in focus.

BROWN WATCH

US Sen. Scott Brown came to praise Greenfield, not bury it, telling officials on his second visit since being elected last year that they’re “doing the right thing” downtown by keeping businesses on Main Street – and High, Federal and Chapman streets as well, the Recorder reports.

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll has lately been named by Democratic strategist Doug Rubin as a potential 2012 contender against Scott Brown.  Driscoll told the National Journal that she enjoys her day job, but doesn’t rule it out.  Via Salem News.

WASHINGTON

House Republicans get back to work on their doomed bid to repeal federal health care regulations.

Bond rating agencies Moody’s and S&P warn lawmakers that the US’s AAA rating isn’t a birthright – and say it won’t remain if Washington can’t rein in deficits.

Joshua Green explains how “The Hermanator Experience” (trademarked phrase) will shake up the GOP presidential primaries in 2012.

The Weekly Standard has been looking at President Obama’s job approval ratings and they say the recent upward trend should set off warning bells to Republicans that ousting an incumbent isn’t easy.

PAROLE

Gov. Deval Patrick axed pretty much everyone who had anything to do with the 2008 parole or post-release supervision of Woburn cop killer Domenic Cilleni, reports the Globe. Josh Wall, the Suffolk County prosecutor he tapped to serve as interim Parole Board director, whom Patrick ultimately wants to serve as the board's chairman, gets praise from many quarters – but defense attorneys and prisoners' rights advocates say he has no background in the risk assessment needed to do the job and will have to recuse himself from the large number of cases he was involved in as prosecutor. The Herald says Patrick wins over law enforcement critics with his thorough housecleaning at Parole, and also reports that cops and prosecution-connected lawyers heap praise on Wall.

Elsewhere, officials in Lawrence praised Patrick’s decision to force the resignations, the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune reports. House Speaker Robert DeLeo appeared on Broadside with Jim Braude last night praising Patrick’s decision to force out the five parole board members, but declined to talk specifics on the governor’s proposal to mandate the maximum sentence on a third violent felony conviction.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

It's the pokey for Patty.  Patrice Tierney, wife of US Rep. John Tierney, was sentenced to 30 days in jail plus five months house arrest following her guilty plea to tax evasion charges.  Prosecutors had called for probation and suggested she had already suffered added shame because of coverage her case drew as the wife of a congressman. US District Judge William Young seemed put off that reasoning, but emphasized the congressman had no knowledge of the tax fraud that will land his wife in the can. Prosecutors said yesterday Patrice Tierney pulled down an annual “salary” of between $20,000 and $30,000 for managing her fugitive brother’s finances.

Newly unsealed documents show Dianne Wilkerson received cash gifts from attorney Tom Kiley, retired advertising executive Jack Connors, former Senate Majority Leader Biff MacLean, and newspaper publisher Melvin Miller. Wilkerson then hid the cash from the IRS.

New documents also show federal prosecutors are alleging former Boston city councilor Chuck Turner perjured himself 15 times during his corruption trial.  This may not help Turner at his Jan. 25 sentencing.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Globe columnist Steven Syre thinks the Evergreen Solar debacle should cause state leaders to back off investing in individual companies or trying to seed new industries through state policies and incentives. His conversation with the state's top economic development official, Greg Bialecki, suggests the Patrick administration does not agree.

Attorney General Martha Coakley yesterday filed an amicus brief in the suit by a coalition of fishing industry interests against federal regulations that the state says are illegally hurting fisherman in communities such as Gloucester and New Bedford, reports the Gloucester Times.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Coakley also vows to fight any rate hikes by Unitil.

Can electric cars prevent global warming?

MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS

Cash-strapped states and municipalities are struggling to refinance billions of dollars in debt, thanks to turmoil in the municipal bond market.

The Daily Item reports that some Lynn residents are upset by the Salem Planning Board’s unanimous decision to allow development of a Lowe’s Home Improvement store and a Walmart on the Salem/Lynn line.  Residents are concerned about traffic and potential flooding.

 A successful home-rule petition will leave Chelmsford residents with a lower electric bill. The petition allows the town to suspend a National Grid surcharge for several years, the Lowell Sun reports.

 Foxboro is set to vote on a new $200 fine for anyone arrested for public drunkenness, or public consumption of marijuana.

STORM FALLOUT

 A 69-year-old grandmother in Billerica threatened to start digging if officials didn’t send someone to clear snow from a town bus stop.

 “Nuisance storms” are eating up snow and ice removal budgets in Fitchburg and Worcester, reports the Telegram and Gazette.

 THE ARTS

 WBUR reports the Boston Symphony Orchestra will begin a shorter format this week to lure new audiences to Symphony Hall. 

CHARITIES

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has an opinion piece saying nonprofits should say “thanks but not thanks” to a proposal by US Sen. Charles Grassley that would lift the electioneering ban on nonprofit organizations.

ADDICTION

The latest trend in substance abuse recovery is “sober coaches,” someone you hire at a cost of up to $200 an hour to cajole, harass, harangue, humiliate or motivate you at home, at the office, or on the phone to stay on the straight and narrow, US News & World Report says. A little more costly than the $1 or so donation to the AA basket but the coffee’s probably better.

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