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, JAN. 20, 2011…..Senate Democrats on Thursday shot down an attempt by Republicans to appoint an independent panel to help redraw Massachusetts’s political boundaries, rejecting the argument that a panel would shore up public confidence in the often-contentious process. During a Senate debate establishing rules for the legislative session, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr proposed an independent commission to advise the Legislature’s redistricting process. But only one of the chamber’s 36 Democrats, Sen. James Eldridge of Acton, joined the GOP in support. The proposal failed on a 5-34 vote. “Voting is one of the most fundamental rights in Massachusetts. Redistricting affects the enfranchisement of every voter in the state,” said Tarr, a Gloucester Republican. “Madame President, this is not an attempt to try to alter the authority of the Legislature. This is an attempt to draw others into the process.” Tarr pointed to a recent poll showing that 62 percent of Massachusetts residents support an independent redistricting commission, and he also pointed out that Secretary of State William Galvin had voiced support for an independent advisory panel. Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) argued that independent redistricting commissions appeared to be “gaining favor” around the country. “The Legislature has demonstrated that it has not been perfect in implementing redistricting,” he said. “I know that some states that have had scandal, have had problems, have moved to the independent redistricting process.” Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst), who has been tapped by Senate President Therese Murray to lead the Senate’s redistricting process, argued that political maps drawn by independent panels in other states have proven less reliable and more likely to face legal challenges than those drawn by Legislatures. In addition, he said, public polls showcase support for an “independent” commission, but don’t often account for the fact that members of such a commission would likely be appointed by elected leaders. “They’re almost all appointed by elected officials in the state. You’re just removing it one step from elected folks. Instead of the elected folks, the elected folks are appointing people,” Rosenberg said. “This is inherently a political process. It would be hard to imagine that there was no consideration of political interest or political background in selecting these people.” Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who rejected the independent panel, joined Rosenberg, arguing that lawmakers would be more likely to uphold the public’s will in drawing political boundaries. “Folks who understand the system and the genius of our Founding Fathers – we know as legislators that we are structurally much more inclined to be responsive to demands of transparency from our constituents than are appointed members of a commission,” she said. While the state still has not received the data needed to begin redrawing boundaries, Chang-Diaz added

that even if lawmakers were to support an independent panel, “it is way too late to be changing up the rules at this point in the process.” Rosenberg also countered Republicans by suggesting that Galvin had experienced a “change of heart” in his attitude toward an independent panel. But in a News Service interview, Galvin rejected that assessment. Galvin said he has consistently opposed proposals that would strip the Legislature of its constitutional power to redraw political districts. Rather, he supports an independent redistricting panel that would present a variety of maps to lawmakers for their consideration. Ultimate authority would still rest with the Legislature, he said, but they would be forced to explain why they might choose to differ from the panel’s advice. “I never opposed it or proposed it until now,” Galvin said. “I opposed removal of authority from the Legislature. I still do.” He described Rosenberg’s characterization of his position as “comfortable confusion for, perhaps, some who would like to be comfortably confused.” Galvin said the panel he favors would mirror the Judicial Nominating Commission, a panel appointed by the governor to help screen judicial appointments. In 2001, legal challenges overshadowed the Massachusetts redistricting process and ultimately led to the resignation of House Speaker Thomas Finneran, who later pled guilty to an obstruction of justice charge in connection with his role in the process. -END1/20/2011 Serving the working press since 1910