Public Hearing on Redistricting

The Joint Legislative Committee on Redistricting came to Lawrence High School tonight for a public hearing. Present were Senators Stanley Rosenberg (co-chair), Barry Finegold, Daniel Wolf, Sonia Chang-Diaz, and Bruce Tarr; and Representatives Michael Moran (co-chair), Sean Garballey, Bradford Hill, Alice Hanlon Peisch, Marcos Devers, John Keenan, Byron Rushing and Anne Gobi.

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas was the first to testify. She spoke of the “clear rationale” for retaining the Fifth District which she called a “revolutionary district” citing the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the Labor Movement, famous writers like Emerson and Kerouac and environmentalists like Thoreau. She said that dividing the cities of Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill into different districts would make it tougher for them all to get Federal funds for common issues and problems. She also spoke of the woman’s perspective that was supplied from 1925 to 1960 by Edith Nourse Rogers: “dividing the district would diminish the voice of women in politics.”

Former State Senator Steve Panagiotakos spoke next, saying that the core cities of the Fifth District have been part of that district for more than a century which has served as a unifying force for these communities. Steve made five points: (1) the district is already compactly drawn; (2) there is strong historic ties among the district’s communities; (3) educational institutions such as Northern Essex and Middlesex Community Colleges and University of Massachusetts Lowell serve the district well; (4) the district has strong diversity with many groups of new Americans living here; and (5) the existing district is very competitive politically for both parties.

Chelmsford Selectman Jon Kurland spoke mostly about all that was accomplished for the town when it was represented by a single representative. While acknowledging the hard work of the four representatives who now are elected by portions of the town, he asked that the town’s representation be reduced to no more than two representatives. His remarks brought a response from Co-Chair Moran who acknowledged having already met with Kurland and others from Chelmsford on this issue and, while assuring them that the committee would do what it could to make the town’s representation more unified, pointed out a number of other communities that have equal or greater geographic divisions in their legislative delegations.

Representative Sheila Harrington who represents Groton, Ayer, Pepperell and Townsend said that while all four of the towns considered themselves to be part of Greater Lowell, Pepperell and Townsend were both part of the First Congressional District and asked to be added into the Fifth. Senator Eileen Donoghue followed and began her remarks by saying that the best evidence that the Fifth was a great district was that communities were trying to get into it (referring to Pepperell and Townsend). Donoghue went on to reiterate the historic, educational, business and political ties within the Fifth District and ended with a strong endorsement of retaining the Fifth because it was the only district to elect a woman in the past 25 years and “to botch that up would be a travesty.” Representative Corey Atkins echoed this theme but also spoke of her personal connections to the entire Fifth District that she formed earlier in her life.

Many others spoke at this hearing. Some others from Greater Lowell included Sam Poulten (stressing his family’s military service and his investment in radio station WCAP); Rasy An, the Executive Director of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association (the district-wide focus on immigration issues greatly benefits the region’s Southeast Asian population and suggested that if more people were to be added to the district, consider including Fitchburg and its large population of Hmongs); Marie Sweeney (specifically concerned that altering the makeup of the Fifth would adversely effect Federal funding formulas for programs like Headstart and urged the committee to use a redistrict approach that “takes into account all residents of the district); Emily Rosenbaum, Executive Director of Coalition for a Better Acre (traced her immigrant family’s connections to many communities in the Fifth including how her Russian-Jewish grandfather arrived not speaking English and ended up managing Lowell’s Enterprise Department Store); Don Ayer, (the numerous vocational high schools in the district created another bond) and many more.

Throughout the night, the Redistricting Committee urged all members of the public to use the Committee’s website to submit comments, statements and evidence.