Amherst could be part of a different U.S. congressional district

By Collegian News Staff

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The town of Amherst could soon be part of a different U.S. congressional district that encompasses many towns and cities in much of the central portion of the state.

New congressional district maps released by the state’s Special Joint Committee on Redistricting Monday call for the town to become part of the a newly drawn 2nd Congressional District in the state – which would cover areas spanning from Northampton to Worcester and Westborough. Currently, the town is part of the state’s 1st Congressional District, which represents a constituency spanning from Fitchburg to Pittsfield.

The new districts – which were drawn because the state will lose one of its 10 congressional districts by the next election cycle due to sluggish population growth – make changes in areas throughout the state. Locally, they put Amherst in some territory that’s currently represented by U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Worcester, who intends to run for re-election in the new 2nd District in 2012.

The new maps also put the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, in a new 1st Congressional District that would be composed of areas stretching from Dudley in the southern central portion of the state to Williamstown in the northern western portion of the state.

The 1st Congressional District is currently represented by U.S. Rep. John Olver, D-Amherst, who announced a few weeks ago of his intention to retire by the end of his term in 2012. Neal, who currently represents the 2nd Congressional District and intends to run for re-election in the new district, could likely be challenged by Andrea Nuciforo of Pittsfield who’s announced his intentions to run against him in a 2012 Democratic primary, according to several reports.

In addition to the western parts of the state, the new maps make changes to a number of districts in the eastern tier of Massachusetts, as well. And, soon after the proposed maps were released Monday, Quincy Democrat and U.S. Rep. William Keating announced his intentions to run in what would be a new incumbent-free district in the Cape Cod region – where he owns a summer house – so as to avoid a challenge with Boston Democrat and U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, according to several reports. The newly proposed maps had put both of the congressmen in the same district.

A University of Massachusetts political science professor interviewed yesterday evening said that the changes on the newly drawn maps didn’t surprise him too much, and noted that the newly drawn districts look more compact.

“It’s a more rational organization of the districts in Massachusetts,” said Ray La Raja, an associate professor of political science, in a phone interview. “Geometrically, they looked more compact.”

La Raja noted that the new maps group the UMass campus into the same district as the UMass Medical School in Worcester, which unites a number of higher education institutions in one district.

And while the new maps do have to be approved by both the state Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick, La Raja said he doesn’t foresee them facing too much resistance – though, he noted, some Republicans could challenge them.

“Once John Olver said he was going to retire, the pieces [for this] fell into place,” added La Raja.

State Sen. Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, who serves as the co-chairman Special Joint Committee on Redistricting, did not return a message for comment on the matter last night. But the committee put into a place a public comment period on the new maps that was slated to last for three days after the maps were released, according to a letter released Monday by Rosenberg and state Rep. Michael Moran, D-Brighton, the other co-chairman of the committee.

-William Perkins