Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Objectivity in Redistricting

Today the Senate Minority Caucus released this press release in response to the need for an independent redistricting commission:

Senate Republicans call for independent redistricting commission

BOSTON – Seeking to infuse the redistricting process with objectivity and avoid the legal challenges that have tarnished the process in the past, the Senate Republican Caucus is calling for the establishment of an independent redistricting commission to assist lawmakers in the drawing of new legislative boundaries for members of Congress, the Legislature and the Governor’s Council.

Senate Republicans have filed language to create the new advisory commission, which will be charged with developing a redistricting plan that will be subject to legislative approval prior to its implementation. The Senate is scheduled to take up the proposal as part of its rules debate on Thursday, January 20, but the Caucus will also be filing it as a stand-alone bill for the 2011-2012 session.

“The voting rights of every citizen in the Commonwealth are affected by redistricting, and it requires our strongest efforts,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr. “The commission we are proposing would infuse objectivity and expertise into a very complex process that would benefit from both. Our voters deserve the best we can give to redistricting, and the commission would provide guidance free from the traditional politics that have decided who we send to Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill.”

The League of Women Voters, Common Cause, former Governor Mitt Romney and Governor Deval Patrick have all endorsed the concept of an independent redistricting commission in the past. A MassINC poll released earlier this month shows that 62 percent of Massachusetts residents also favor using such a commission.

“Poll after poll has shown the public has grown tired of the traditional political games surrounding redistricting,” noted Senator Michael R. Knapik. “An independent commission would ensure that districts are apportioned appropriately in an impartial manner guided by principle and rooted in fairness. This legislature should move beyond power plays and parochialism and adopt districts that make historical, geographic, and economic sense.”

Senate Republicans have proposed creating a seven-member redistricting commission, which would be comprised entirely of non-elected individuals who would be selected based on their civic involvement and their knowledge of redistricting policy, civil rights, political science, voting rights and other areas of expertise. The proposal also requires that the members reflect, as much as possible, the geographic, racial, ethnic, gender and age diversity of the state’s population.

Under the proposal, the Governor would appoint a dean or professor of law, political science or government from a Massachusetts institution of higher learning, while the Attorney General would select a retired justice and the Secretary of State would name an expert in civil rights law. To ensure bipartisan balance on the commission, the four remaining members would be chosen from a list of nominees submitted by the House Speaker, House Minority Leader, Senate President and Senate Minority Leader.

“The concept of an independent commission clearly favored by Massachusetts residents, will take the politics out of the process and in so doing help to ensure fairness and integrity in our electoral process,” said Senate Minority Whip Robert L. Hedlund.

The Caucus proposal calls for the commission to hold public hearings across the state, and to release a preliminary redistricting plan for public comment no later than April 20, 2011. A final, revised plan would be submitted to the Legislature’s redistricting committee by July 29, 2011.

“It is imperative that the redistricting process not only be fair but free of political influence,” said Senator Richard J. Ross. “By establishing an independent redistricting commission, I believe we will be able to obtain the best legislative districts possible while making sure all constituents are well represented.”