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One Loser in Bay State’s Version of ‘Survivor’

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Rep. Niki Tsongas is making the argument that her district shouldn’t be the one eliminated in redistricting.

In the state where gerrymandering was born, no amount of creative district drawing will ensure all 10 Massachusetts Democrats return to the House in January 2013.

“Obviously, two of us are going to have run against each other,” 16-term Rep. Barney Frank said last week, referring to the fact that the state lost a seat in reapportionment.

“Mathematically, that’s an absolute,” said state House Minority Leader Bradley Jones, a Republican on the state’s redistricting committee. He likened it to the reality television show “Survivor,” in which somebody gets voted off the island.

Democrats control redistricting in the Bay State, and Members of the all-Democratic House delegation have been making the case for why they shouldn’t be the one to be drawn together with one of their colleagues.

Many made their arguments at a series of public hearings held by the state’s Special Joint Committee on Redistricting during the past few months, but that has led to little clarity on who might end up with their tiki torch extinguished.

“Every region in the state presented a compelling reason why their Congressional district should not change,” said state Sen. Stan Rosenberg (D), the co-chairman of the redistricting committee.

There is still the possibility that a Member will retire or decide to run against Sen. Scott Brown (R), changing the contours of redistricting. But that appears unlikely at this point.

Some plugged-in politicos in Boston said early signs pointed to trouble for Rep. John Tierney, who represents the state’s North Shore-based 6th district. He is not as close with legislators on Beacon Hill as many of the other Members. Tierney never served in the state Legislature before he became a Congressman.

“The most vulnerable Member of the delegation is John Tierney,” said a long-time Democratic strategist in the state. “Politically, he is going to be the most vulnerable.”

Massachusetts Democratic operative David Guarino said he thinks Tierney could see some “residual fallout” from his wife’s recent legal troubles. Patrice Tierney pleaded guilty to tax-related charges in October 2010 and was sentenced to a month in jail in January. Despite his wife’s  crime, Tierney beat his opponent with 57 percent of the vote.

Jones, the Republican on the redistricting panel, along with well-connected Democrats in the state, cautioned that the logistics of drawing Tierney out of his district would be difficult.

Geographically, the 5th and 6th districts could be consolidated with relative ease. But Rep. Niki Tsongas, who represents the 5th, is the delegation’s only woman. And given that the majority of the Bay State’s residents are women, Tsongas believes she has a strong case to make for her district, one of the state’s more compact, to remain intact and that the process shouldn’t undermine the political viability of the state’s only female in Congress.

She also has an ally in state Senate President Therese Murray (D), political observers in the Bay State said. Murray has been a strong proponent of more females running for elected office in the Bay State.

“It’s a barrier-breaking district,” Tsongas told Roll Call. “Given the trouble we have as a state electing women, I’ve heard from many throughout the district and across the state that it is important to keep at least one district that has elected women to give voice to the special concerns of this gender-based majority.”

Another potentially vulnerable Member in the redistricting process is the junior Member of the delegation, Rep. Bill Keating, a large part of whose district lost population between 2000 and 2010. But, as with Tierney, geography makes consolidating Keating’s Cape Cod-based 10th district difficult for mapmakers. The 10th borders Frank’s district, which is unlikely to be consolidated, and that of Rep. Stephen Lynch. A possible scenario is consolidating Lynch’s district with Keating’s.

Another big question mark as the redistricting committee moves forward is how they will draw districts in Boston. Most of the city is currently represented by Rep. Mike Capuano, whose 8th district has a high minority population. State Rep. Michael Moran (D), the other co-chairman of the redistricting committee, noted that under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the committee would have to be particularly careful in how the 8th is redrawn.

The western part of the state, covered by the 1st and 2nd districts, also seems ripe for consolidation. But Rosenberg, who is from western Massachusetts, has a history with Rep. John Olver, who represents the vast 1st district that runs from the Berkshires on the New York border to Fitchburg in the middle of the state.

Rosenberg began his political career by working in Olver’s office and then followed him in his Amherst-based state Senate seat when Olver went to Congress. He might want to follow in his political footsteps once again when Olver retires.

In an interview, Rosenberg didn’t rule out running for Olver’s seat, but he said he would do what was best for the commonwealth, not a particular district or his political ambitions. Another factor: Olver is the only Massachusetts Member on the House Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Richard Neal, who represents the 2nd, is the only Bay Stater on the Ways and Means Committee.

All of the geographical and political contours of the state leave Rosenberg and his colleagues with a deeply difficult task during the next few months. They expect a draft map to be released in the fall.

“I am a dinosaur,” Rosenberg said. “I am very long in the tooth. So I have worked with every one of these [Members] over my 35 years in politics. I consider them all friends.”

Asked about the fact that his map would end up hurting a friend, he was blunt: “It is what has to happen.”

Correction: July 26, 2011

An earlier version of this story misstated the title of Bradley Jones. He is the state House Minority Leader, and he is not the only Republican on the chamber’s redistricting committee.

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