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Between the Lines: Who Will Bow Out Gracefully to Help Massachusetts Map?

Massachusetts has a simple redistricting math problem: There are 10 Members, all Democrats who have said they’re seeking re-election, and only nine House seats for them to run in next year.

And to make matters more complicated for the Bay State, local leaders are also grappling with how to keep the delegation’s clout intact. 

“It’s a very serious undertaking this time. Every state wants to maximize its clout in Washington. When you have five Members with that much seniority and clout, it adds an additional complication,” said state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, the western Massachusetts lawmaker leading his chamber on Congressional redistricting.

Ten-term Rep. John Olver is the ranking member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Rep. Richard Neal has a coveted spot on the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Jim McGovern is the No. 2 Democrat on the Rules Committee, Rep. Barney Frank is ranking member on the Financial Services Committee, and Rep. Ed Markey, the dean of the delegation, is a top member on the Energy and Commerce Committee. 

The good news for the Massachusetts delegation is that lawmakers have ample time to figure this out. Rosenberg said new maps won’t be drawn until the second week of July, and he doesn’t expect the debate to finish until Thanksgiving — that’s enough time for one of the Members to decide to leave, or even opt to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R).

Several map scenarios are floating around state Democratic circles — the most plausible of which puts Neal and Olver into the same western district. 

That plan makes the most sense geographically and demographically. However, such a move would pit two of the most powerful Members in the delegation against each other. Olver is one of only two Democrats in all of New England on the Appropriations panel. 

“I think that’s unlikely to happen unless there’s some decision made at a higher level that such should be the case,” said Philip Johnston, former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, who also suggested national party leaders would have to find a soft landing for either of those Members, such as an ambassadorship, in order for them to willingly leave their seats.  

Furthermore, local Democrats say a Neal-vs.-Olver matchup won’t happen with Rosenberg in charge of much of the mapmaking. Rosenberg is an Olver ally, serving as his top aide when he was in the state Senate. He would not rule out the possibility that Olver and Neal might be pushed in together. 

“It’s premature to be speculating where the consolidations are going to occur,” Rosenberg said. “I am only one vote.”

Local Democrats say the second-most-likely scenario would pit freshman Rep. Bill Keating against five-term Rep. Stephen Lynch. 

Another likely pairing would pit two-term Rep. Niki Tsongas against eight-term Rep. John Tierney in one large northeastern, coastal district. Tsongas is a target given her junior position in the delegation, and her district is relatively competitive compared to the rest of the state. 

Oklahoma: New Map Will Pass Sooner, Not Later 

The new Congressional map, which only makes minor changes to boundaries surrounding the state’s four House seats, is on track to be signed into law this week.

State Sen. Clark Jolley (R), co-chairman of the state Senate Redistricting Committee, told Roll Call that he expects his chamber to pass the new map, sending it to the governor’s desk for her signature. 

“Every Member of Congress, I believe, is supportive of the plan that we’ve written,” Jolley said. “Everything is going surprisingly easy in Oklahoma.”

The map only makes “minor adjustments” to the boundaries, Jolley said. 

GOP Rep. Frank Lucas’ district is increasing in size, while Rep. Dan Boren (D) is picking up another county on the state’s southern border. Republican Rep. Tom Cole’s district will cede some population to freshman Rep. James Lankford (R) in Oklahoma County. 

Send news items on redistricting to Between the Lines here.

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