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Briefings: Western Mass, Meet Your New Congressional Shapes!…

Massachusetts Congress 2021

Just stretching out. Mass 1st Dark Blue (Neal) Mass 2nd Aqua (McGovern) (via

The Joint Committee on Redistricting of the Massachusetts Legislature debuted its last two maps for Congress and Governor’s Council Monday. At an outdoor unveiling next to the State House, Senator Will Brownsberger and Rep Michael Moran showcased their recommendations for both sets of districts. Governor’s Council maps just corrals five senate districts into each of the Council’s eight districts. Thus, the Congressional map was the main event.

The changes were minor if significant. In the 413, despite population losses both in real and relative terms, the shifts have a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quality. Springfield Representative Richard Neal and Worcester Representative James McGovern split the Massachusetts Occident in Congress. The maps leave little doubt about both congressmen chances for reelection should they seek it next year.

“These proposed maps uphold our Commonwealth’s values of representation, democracy, and diversity. It has been my honor to represent Central and Western Massachusetts in the U.S. House for the past 30 years, and I am glad that today’s new district maps maintain two western congressional seats, to fully represent our unique region,” Neal said in a statement to WMP&I. He also thanked Brownsberger and Moran for their work in the redistricting process.

A spokesperson for McGovern had not commented as of posting time.

Because the state did not lose any congressional seats, the cartography was easier than 10 years ago. Moreover, the much larger size of US House district provides a bit more room to maneuver than state legislative districts, which are on orders of magnitude smaller.

Rep Neal in 2018. His district is not moving much–but maybe enough? (WMP&I)

In 2010, a similar trend of east outpacing west in population growth prompted the dismantlement of former Amherst Congressman John Olver’s district. Its parts were divvied up between Neal, McGovern and then-Rep Nikki Tsongas—Lowell Congresswoman Lori Trahan holds it today.

The result of the mapmaking a decade ago maintained Neal’s Springfield base, but flung its tail westward in a new 1st Congressional District. McGovern’s district, renumbered the 2nd District, stretched out from his native Worcester east and west, taking in Amherst, Greenfield and Northampton.

The new map largely keep these shapes.

Neal’s sideways L-shaped district lost population, requiring it to take on new areas. Still, in the new map, it will recline a bit westward away from the Connecticut River while bringing up its long side northward more deeply into Hampshire and Worcester counties. Among the towns Neal will take on are Belchertown and Ware. The map unifies the Brookfields in one district as well.

McGovern’s district benefited from robust growth in the Woo itself, as the Commonwealth’s second city broke its 1950 population record. The 2nd District will take up that Western Mass territory Neal ceded, adding communities such as Colrain, Heath, Shelburne, and Williamsburg.

Rep McGovern in Northampton circa 2019 as Senator Markey possibly contemplates how the 2nd District sprawls eastward. (WMP&I)

On the east side, McGovern’s District square dances with the 4th and 5th districts, swapping a clutch of towns where they meet. It gives up territory in Bellingham, Blackstone, Mendon and Millville. Meanwhile, Ashland, Holliston, Hopkinton, Medway and Southborough join the 2nd District family.

Beyond Western Mass, one notable change was the unification of Fall River into the district Newton Congressman Jake Auchincloss holds.

Observers have noted that the new map saws off the arm of Neal’s district that was most hostile to him in last year’s primary. Former Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse performed best in Franklin and Hampshire towns that the Redistricting Committee amputated from Neal’s district.

The changes in the 1st District will probably swing it rightward slightly. The redness of Neal’s new Worcester Country territory is cooled by ever-bluer Belchertown. The town has become decampment for Amherst-area college denizens. Yet, Belchertown is unlikely to recoil at a relative moderate like Neal as the Upper Valley did.

By comparison, the new territory for McGovern fortifies him further. As once-Democratic Worcester County towns turned blood red over the decades, Worcester’s district became less safe for Democrats. For a time, a Republican held it.

Unfurling the district into Western Mass bolstered McGovern’s defenses. While Neal critics have howled that he excised hostile territory, residents in the Upper Valley may rejoice at the prospect of McGovern’s representation. Such was the case when Northampton entered his district ten years. From 1990 to 2010, Neal represented the Paradise City.