A national conservative group focused on government reform says it wants to take on gerrymandering in deeply blue Massachusetts.
Alabama-based Take Back Our Republic wants to replace the Legislature’s redistricting process with a nonpartisan commission in the Bay State, with the aim of increasing voters’ access to their elected officials, said John Pudner, the group’s executive director.
“We’re going to get districts that are much fairer for people,” Pudner said.
Take Back Our Republic plans to follow the model that was adopted in Michigan last year — using a ballot initiative to create a 13-member independent commission that would redraw district lines based on the 2020 census.
Pudner, a former Republican operative who worked on the 2000 Bush campaign, noted districts have long been drawn by partisan politicians. But, instead of leaving it up to legislators, an independent commission would set the lines based not on “which party it benefits — we’re not trying to add or subtract seats — but what is better for voters,” he said.
“I know some incumbents will resist this because they feel like districts are being drawn to make them safer,” Pudner said. “Fairer districts in the end are better.”
He said Take Back Our Republic has been drumming up support locally by holding meetings across the state.
“People are very excited about it,” said Peter Buckley, a Massachusetts Republican State Committee member who sits on Take Back Our Republic’s national board.
Springfield-based Democratic strategist Tony Cignoli said the idea of nonpartisan redistricting could find support across the aisle — particularly in the western portion of the state, where a single district can be both physically far-flung and contain “an urban center and a gazillion hill towns where the interests of these communities are so very different.”
“I think there are Democrats and Republicans who could agree, especially because there are some disparities between western and eastern Massachusetts,” Cignoli said.
Pam Wilmot of Common Cause Massachusetts — which has long fought for nonpartisan redistricting — said that while independent commissions “are the gold standard for reform,” Take Back Our Republic’s mission is ill-timed, because she said the Legislature “did a great job” redistricting last time.
Even if a ballot question passed, changing the redistricting process in Massachusetts would require a constitutional amendment, two approvals from the Legislature and another from voters, a four-year process that wouldn’t be done by the next redistricting cycle in 2021, Wilmot said.
“Right now you can’t do it in the appropriate time frame,” she said.
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