Changes up for region’s congressional districts

  • The 2nd Congressional District as proposed by the Legislature’s Special Joint Committee on Redistricting. The district is represented by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester. MASSACHUSETTS LEGISLATURE

  • The 1st Congressional District as proposed by the Legislature’s Special Joint Committee on Redistricting. The district is represented by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield. MASSACHUSETTS LEGISLATURE

  • McGOVERN

  • NEAL

Staff Writer
Published: 11/7/2021 1:52:13 PM
Modified: 11/7/2021 1:52:15 PM

Significant changes are in store for Western Massachusetts’ electoral map under a proposal that shifts communities between the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts.

The Legislature’s Special Joint Committee on Redistricting released its 10-year revision this week with a map that shifts many rural communities in Hampshire and Franklin counties from the 1st Congressional District, represented by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, to the 2nd Congressional District, represented by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester.

The Special Joint Committee on Redistricting will hold a virtual public hearing on the proposed changes at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 9, and is accepting public comment on the map at this time.

Under the proposal, McGovern would gain Williamsburg, Westhampton, Goshen and Chesterfield in Hampshire County, as well as Bernardston, Leyden, Colrain, Heath, Shelburne, Buckland, Conway and Ashfield in Franklin County.

The swaps are not all one way, however. Neal would gain Belchertown and Ware from McGovern in Hampshire County, as well as West Brookfield, New Braintree, North Brookfield, Spencer, Oxford, and part of Webster in Worcester County, and part of Palmer in Hampden County.

In the east of McGovern’s district there are also other proposed shifts involving other districts, including some of the towns that didn’t back him in the 2020 general election being drawn out.

Over the past two election cycles, Neal has faced challengers in the Democratic primary who charge he is not progressive enough. In 2018, while Neal handily beat Springfield Attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, he lost numerous towns in Franklin and Hampshire counties to her. It was the same story in 2020, when Neal defeated former Holyoke mayor Alex Morse.

Many of the communities that bucked Neal in those races would go to McGovern under the proposed map. Indeed, of the 12 Neal would be shedding to the 2nd District, none backed him in both recent primaries.

Williamsburg, Ashfield, Shelburne, Buckland, Chesterfield, Leyden and Colrain backed both of his opponents, while Conway, Bernardston, Goshen, Heath and Westhampton backed Morse.

Easthampton also didn’t back Neal in either of his most recent Democratic primaries. However, it is staying in his district, as is Southampton, which voted for Morse.

Matt Szafranski, editor-in-chief of Western Mass Politics and Insight, said the proposed changes to the districts are “subtle but significant.”

He noted that the communities Neal could lose to McGovern’s district are small, and that they don’t affect the Hampden County power base of Neal’s district, which is what allowed him to win both primaries.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily going to have an impact on Neal,” he said.

At the same time, he characterized the communities as a “gift” for McGovern. The Worcester congressman has established a reputation for himself as a stalwart progressive.

“They will welcome him with open arms,” Szafranski said.

He also said that the thought process behind the new proposed 1st District lines might be to make the primary electorate more moderate while not really affecting the general election.

Asked about the proposed changes, McGovern said he is grateful to the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting and, if this is what is finalized, he looks forward to getting to know his new communities.

“I have to earn people’s vote,” he said.

He also said he had testified before the committee in favor of Western Massachusetts retaining two congressional seats, a goal he said Neal shared as well.

McGovern also noted that this isn’t his first redistricting process and that he used to represent Fall River and Dartmouth in his district. However, he also said he loves representing communities in the western part of the state and is deeply invested in it.

“I love the Valley,” he said.

Neal’s office did not answer questions on redistricting by deadline.


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