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Western Mass. would lose a state House seat under redistricting proposal

Massachusetts lawmakers Tuesday unveiled a proposal for new state legislative districts to take into account population shifts captured by the 2020 Census.

Stagnant or shrinking population compared to the rest of the state caused shifts in western Massachusetts. State Rep. Paul Mark's current district, which stretches from Dalton to Greenfield, would be eliminated under the plan.  

As a result, Greenfield — Franklin County’s largest community — would be split between districts currently held by Reps. Natalie Blais and Susannah Whipps.

In a statement, Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner came out against the plan, noting Greenfield gained population in the census.

"In no uncertain terms I am opposed to the City being split in half . We should be a cornerstone for any House Legislative District," she said. "I hope our City Council and other citizens of Greenfield will join me in opposition during the public comment period." 

That public comment period lasts until Monday afternoon, and the Legislature is under a tight timeline. There's a deadline approaching on November 8, when candidates in next year's election will need to be living in the districts they want to represent.

No western Massachusetts state Senate seats were lost in the shuffle, but districts shifted eastward. 

"As the furthest west district takes from the next district to make up size, that district has to take even more, and so on," said State Senator William Brownsberger, co-chair of the joint redistricting committee. "So the movement got especially large around the center of the state."

State Sen. Adam Hinds of Pittsfield is a member of the redistricting committee. He said while there are some changes in the Senate map, he was pleased none of them were major.

"We fought really hard as a western Mass. delegation to make sure that we didn't lose the total number of seats of senators," Hinds said. "That wasn't easy because of the dynamic of losing population, and on top of that the greater Boston area adding people."

Hinds' own district, which includes all of the Berkshires and touches the other three western counties, was already the largest geographically in the legislature, at 52 communities. Under the proposal unveiled Tuesday, he said, the district will add five more towns. But still, he called the relatively small increase "a win."

Whether Hinds decides to run for another term is still up in the air. He said Tuesday afternoon he’s still deciding whether to run for statewide office next year.

"I've been open about the fact that we started to put a team together in the summer to look at that possibility," Hinds said, "and in an effort to be fair to everybody, we'll make that decision public soon."

At the time of that interview, Hinds had already filed paperwork Tuesday with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance declaring his "office now sought" as lieutenant governor.

Rep. Mark could seek a promotion to the state Senate now held by Hinds. If he tried to stay in the House, under the proposed map, Mark would be paired against state Rep. John Barrett of North Adams.

Mark did not return a request for comment Tuesday afternoon. 

In the rest of western Massachusetts, there was some shuffling of communities and precincts, but no other seat losses. One district, the 9th Hampden House District, held by Rep. Orlando Ramos of Springfield, is being reconfigured to become majority Hispanic.

The map proposal increased the number of House districts with a "majority minority" population from 20 to 33 across the state. There are 160 seats in the Massachusetts House.

The Senate map would increase the number of "majority minority" population to five, from the current three, out of 40 total seats.

Lawmakers are also charged with drafting new maps for Massachusetts' congressional districts. Those have yet to be released.

This report contains information from State House News Service.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.