Significant shifts in proposed redistricting

  • This map shows some of the proposed House districts in western Massachusetts, including the 1st Hampshire (blue), 2nd Hampshire (yellow), 3rd Hampshire (gray), 7th Hampden (purple) and 4th Hampden (maroon). MASSACHUSETTS LEGISLATURE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2021 8:21:43 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Most of the Hilltowns of Hampshire County will be included in the same state House of Representatives district as the City of Northampton if the current draft state House map is enacted with no changes.

Draft maps for both the House and state Senate were released this week, and the public comment period for the maps is open.

The proposed maps can be viewed online at malegislature.gov/Redistricting/ by clicking “Proposed New Districts.”

Perhaps the biggest proposed change for Hampshire County is placing most of its Hilltowns in the same district as Northampton. Currently, these towns are part of a sprawling rural district, the 1st Franklin, with almost all of its territory spread out across Franklin and Hampshire counties. It’s currently represented by Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland.

Under the new map, the Franklin County parts of the 1st Franklin would stay in a new 1st Franklin, which would be wholly located in Franklin County. Most of the Hampshire County portion of the district, meanwhile, would be incorporated into a new 1st Hampshire District. The 1st Hampshire District is currently represented by Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, who said she was willing to take on additional Hampshire County communities.

“It makes a lot of sense to represent multiple communities that are facing similar issues,” she said.

Under the proposed map, Sabadosa would lose Southampton and the Hampden County town of Montgomery, while picking up Williamsburg, Goshen, Plainfield, Chesterfield, Worthington and Cummington. She would also retain Westhampton, Hatfield and Northampton from her current district.

Sabadosa said that it makes sense to represent more communities in the Hampshire Regional School District, as well as those served by the Foothills Health District and Hilltown CDC. She also said she spent the last four years balancing the needs of Hilltowns in her district with Northampton, Southampton and Hatfield.

Sabadosa noted how Hampshire County communities are oriented toward each other, pointing to how the Northampton Board of Health did a lot of work with the foothills district in the pandemic.

“I think that this is more reflective of the interests of the community,” Sabadosa said.

She said she’s pleased by the prospect of representing places in Hampshire County that she loves, such as Bread Euphoria in Williamsburg, the Chesterfield Gorge and the Old Creamery Co-op in Cummington.

“These places represent a lot of areas that I love in Hampshire County,” she said.

She expressed disappointment at the prospect of losing Southampton and Montgomery from her district, noting the personal relationships she’s built there.

Other House districts

The remaining Hampshire County communities in the 1st Franklin, Middlefield and Huntington, would go to a new 3rd Hampden District, currently represented by Nicholas Boldyga, R-Southwick.

Blais’ new proposed district would include part of Greenfield, splitting the city with a proposed new 2nd Franklin District, a proposal that has generated opposition from that community.

Blais said that she will continue to advocate for rural Massachusetts, and for her constituents, however the maps are drawn. She also expressed sadness at the communities she’s set to lose.

“I’ve had some really tough conversations today,” she said.

However, Blais decline to take a stance on whether or not Greenfield should be split.

Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, would lose Pelham from her 3rd Hampshire District under the proposed map.

“I love Pelham,” Domb said. “I’ve made a lot of good friends in Pelham since being elected.”

However, she said that Pelham would be in good hands with Rep. Jake Oliveira, D-Ludlow, whose 7th Hampden District would be expanded to include all of Belchertown as well as Pelham, Shutesbury, Wendell and New Salem.

“He’s a really dedicated and committed representative,” said Domb, who also represents part of Granby.

She also noted that Pelham and Amherst share a school district and collaborate on a number of things, and she said that would work with Oliveira if the communities are looking to work together.

Belchertown is currently split between the 7th Hampden and the 2nd Franklin District and would be whole under the proposed map.

The 2nd Hampshire District, meanwhile, would remain unchanged under the map. Curently represented by Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, it would still include all of Easthampton, Hadley and South Hadley, as well as part of Granby.

“I love all four towns and I’m happy that they’re going to stay together,” Carey said.

Ware, meanwhile, would continue to be split between the 1st Hampden District and 5th Worcester District, while the 5th Hampden District, which currently consists of all of Holyoke, would take in some of Chicopee.

Southampton would be joined with most of Westfield under the proposed map, moving from Sabadosa’s 1st Hampshire District to a new 4th Hampden District. The current 4th Hampden consists of all of Westfield and is represented by Kelly Pease, R-Westfield. The newly proposed district would feature most of Westfield and all of Southampton.

“I’m a little excited about it,” said Pease, adding that he’s looking forward to getting to know the residents of Southampton.

Senate districts

Of the proposed state Senate districts covering Hampshire County, the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District would expand eastward under the plan to take in Athol, Petersham, Winchendon and Ashburnham. It would also lose Whately and Colrain to the Berskhire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden District and South Hadley to the 1st Hampden and Hampshire District.

The district is currently represented by Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton.

Comerford said that the proposed changes would mean that she will be representing 25 communities, up from 24. She also said that the map preserves all of the western Massachusetts based Senate seats.

“Losing a senator would have meant losing a vote,” she said.

Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, will have his 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District lose the Republican towns of Southwick, Granville and Tolland, which would go to the heavily Democratic Berskhire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden District. That district is represented by Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, who is running for lieutenant governor.

The 2nd Hampden and Hampshire, meanwhile, would pick up West Springfield from the current Hampden District.

Elsewhere in the Senate, the 1st Hampden and Hampshire District, represented by Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, gains South Hadley and continues to represent Granby and Belchertown under the proposed map. It would also pick up Palmer and Warren and lose some of Springfield.

Sen. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, meanwhile, would continue to represent Ware as part of a Worcester County-based district.

Matt Szafranski, editor in chief of Western Mass Politics and Insight, said that Berkshire County losing a Berkshire-named House district had a ripple effect on the rest of the map.

In the Senate, he also said that the changes to Velis’ district make him or another Westfield-based Democrat basically “bulletproof,” and make it harder, but not impossible, for Republicans to take the seat should Velis move on.

“If I was someone who was caught up in partisan politics I wouldn’t have run for state rep,” Velis said, noting that his old state House district had long been held by Republicans.

He also said that he’s going to miss Southwick, Granville and Tolland, and that he’s familiar with West Springfield, as his mother grew up there.

Szafranski also said that including Southampton in with much of Westfield could mean challengers for Pease.

“I’m there to take care of the people of the town of Southampton no matter what their registration is,” Pease said, when asked about the prospect of Southampton’s effect on elections. “You represent the community.”

He also noted that he grew up in Chester, and is familiar with small-town government and its challenges.

Written comments on the proposed districts will be accepted until Monday at 5 p.m. and can be submitted here: https://malegislature.gov/Redistricting/ and clicking “Contact the Committee.”

There will also be a virtual hearing at 1 p.m. on Friday that interested parties can sign up to testify at at https://malegislature.gov/Events/Hearings/Detail/4028.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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