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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Redistricting Debacle Dumps Dem Warhorse

The sudden retirement announcement of Rep. Barney Frank provides an instructive case study in the importance of Democrats paying more attention to the redistricting process. If an influential Democratic congressman in the most Democratic of states can be forced out, something is very wrong.
True, Massachusetts is just one state, and Dems have shown some strategic prowess in redistricting elsewhere, e.g. Texas, even though the GOP runs the show there. Frank’s departure could be chalked off to an unusual situation. But it’s nonetheless disturbing that one of the House’s sharpest critics of Republican policies can be bounced because of lousy redistricting — by his own party.
Perhaps the best inside skinny about the Frank debacle so far would be “Frank says new voting map edged him out” by the Boston Globe’s Matt Viser and Christopher Rowland:

…US Representative Barney Frank yesterday accused Beacon Hill lawmakers of drawing the new congressional map in a way that shortchanged him in favor of fellow congressmen Edward J. Markey and Stephen F. Lynch. Had they done otherwise, said Frank, he might have run again.
“Markey and Lynch were protected, and the rest of us got what they didn’t want,” he said. Losing the chance to pick up some choice suburban towns for his district, Frank said, retirement became a more attractive option.
On redistricting, Frank said he spoke with legislative leaders at the State House several weeks ago about the new lines for the Fourth Congressional District, to which he was first elected in 1980. They wanted him to take a reshaped district grounded in Southern Massachusetts, centered away from his base of Newton and Brookline. He rejected that idea, he said, but still ended up with a district that “unpleasantly surprised” him.

Maybe the calculus was that Frank had a better chance of winning in a weakened district than did Markey and Lynch. In any case, Frank saw it as a loser, and he knows these districts as good as anyone. As Frank explains:

Frank asserted that Markey, with a suburban district that now extends west to Framingham and Ashland, and Lynch, from South Boston to the South Shore then west to Dedham, were given good districts. Several others — including himself; William R. Keating of Quincy; John Tierney of Salem; and Niki Tsongas of Lowell — got a bad deal, Frank said, even though those districts are still considered by many as safe Democratic seats.
“I talked to Ed Markey, and frankly I was a little disappointed there,” said Frank. “I think Ed had some influence with them, but it was spent mostly on his own district…”There was stuff that Eddie got that, if I could have shared some with Eddie, it would have been a better district.”…When asked whether he would have run for another term had his district not been altered as significantly, Frank said, “If the district had been substantially similar, I would have felt obligated to run again.”

Markey responded that “independent analysts are concluding that all nine are safe Democratic seats,” and State Rep. Michael Moran, House chairman of the redistricting committee agreed with Markey. But obviously Frank strongly disagrees.
There are always tough calls to make in redistricting and yes, the key decisions are supposed to be nonpartisan and not favoring incumbents. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Bay State’s most influential Democratic congressman and one of the Democratic party’s toughest war horses deserved more consideration in the redistricting process. Hard to imagine Republicans making the same mistake.
Massachusetts should have one of the best Democratic Party organizations, one that Democratic state parties can model to good advantage. For now, however, they will have to look elsewhere.

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