POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

How The Pols Pick Their Voters

by David Trumbull

April 17, 2009

Ah, the Gerrymander. It –or rather the name for it—is a Bay State invention. Remember it from junior high school civics class? Remember Massachusetts Democrat Elbridge Gerry and that early 19th century Essex County legislative district with its reptilian outlines. (By the way, it’s Gerry with a hard “g” –the soft “g” pronunciation of the piece of eponymous political punditry came later.)

It is universally acknowledged that to choose our officer-holders is the essence of representative democracy. That is, unless you live in Boston, where the incumbent Democrats in the Great Court have Gerrymandered the districts to assure their own re-election—and the probable exclusion of black, Latino, and other minority candidates. Not to mention Republicans, surely a minority as concerns the Massachusetts legislature.

Take the Third Suffolk District where I am one of six candidates—the winner to be chosen in a special election on June 16th. Prior to last redrawing of districts lines the Third Suffolk was made up of the North End and neighboring West End along with the parts of Beacon Hill bordering on the West End, and from there down through the Financial District, through Chinatown, and finally, into the South End. It made sense. It was basically all of what might broadly be called downtown, except for Back Bay and the part of Beacon Hill bordering on Back Bay.

But starting in 2004, the West End, which includes Charles River Park, a neighborhood relatively strong in a political minority—Republicans—was pulled out of the Third Suffolk and added to a district across the Charles River in very Democratic Cambridge. At the same time two precincts in Roxbury, one 34% black the other 53% black were pulled out of their heavily black neighborhood and put into the otherwise very white Third Suffolk District. Thus the voting power of Republicans was diluted in the north and that of blacks in the south. That’s how the machine on Beacon Hill keeps minorities—racial, political, or otherwise—from having representation.

Bills to take the drawing of district lines out of the hands of incumbent politicians by creating an independent redistricting panel have been filed in the legislature, but so far have gotten little support. Not surprisingly, for the power than incumbents currently have to choose their voters, rather than the voters choosing the office holders, is something few incumbents will willingly surrender.

[David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee. Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.]