All eyes on Beacon Hill's redistricting

March 31, 2011 | | The Herald News |

In a state where "cleaning up Beacon Hill" has been the pledge of every successful statewide candidate for years, it's a test legislators should be careful not to fail.

Every 10 years, when the Census Bureau releases new figures on state population, election district lines must be redrawn to satisfy the constitutional requirement of one person, one vote. But the redistricting process too often - especially in Massachusetts - succumbs to gerrymandering; instead of the people choosing their elected officials, the elected officials choose their constituents.

As this process begins, it is a good time to remember what happened in 2001 and 2002, when districts were last drawn. It is a sad story.

Put bluntly, the redistricting process for State House seats after the 2000 Census was nothing short of a train wreck. Even though Boston had become a majority-minority city for the first time, state legislators created a map for the State's House districts that managed to reduce the number of majority-minority districts in the Legislature - flagrantly diluting the voting strength of these communities.

This Voting Rights Act violation became the subject of a federal court decision that reads like the script of your worst nightmare about Beacon Hill. All key decisions were made out of the public eye by incumbent legislators whose overriding goal, the court found, was to protect their own re-election chances.