The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 27, 2001


Finneran redistricting plan dissolves Meehan's district

Just as the spotlight of the national media focused on Representative Martin Meehan's efforts in support of the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill in the U.S. House, Speaker of the Massachusetts House Tom Finneran surprised national, state and local political leaders by springing a plan to split the reformer's base of support. The plan would redraw the lines of U.S. Congressional districts redistributing the towns in Meehan's 5th District among five other districts. In announcing the plan, Finneran said he had assumed that Meehan would be a candidate for governor and thus unconcerned with the fate of his district.

Last week Meehan visited both Finneran and State Senate President Thomas Birmingham, asking them to keep the district intact regardless of whether he decides to run for re-election to Congress. Then on Monday, July 23, he announced his intention to seek re-election to Congress, citing unfinished business, including campaign finance reform. Earlier Finneran had told reporters and others that he would reconsider the proposal if Meehan decides to run for re-election to Congress. Legislators on Beacon Hill are "holding their breath" waiting for the next move.

Finneran's goals and motives

Finneran and his supporters maintain the proposed new districts have more political and geographic "coherence" than the current districts, which Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby last week said are "among the ugliest things in US politics."

The Speaker says the proposal tries to accomplish three goals: to create a congressional seat for southeastern Massachusetts, where towns near I-495 have grown dramatically; to create a "majority-minority" district and to protect incumbents. It is impossible to achieve all three goals, Finneran has asserted. He further justifies dismantling the current 5th district stating that his proposal will unite "communities of interest," like the so-called "Route 2" district Carlisle would join.

Reporters and columnists over the last week have echoed the belief of "political observers" and "sources" that Finneran's motive in eviscerating the 5th district was revenge for Meehan's national and local advocacy of campaign finance reform. Meehan has strongly criticized Finneran and other state leaders for failing to support the Clean Elections Law overwhelmingly approved by voters in a 1998 statewide referendum. Thomas Edsall in the Washington Post quotes Finneran as saying he will "do anything and everything I can to stop" public financing. Edsall further described Meehan as the "latest victim of a specialty of Massachusetts politics, the skewering of Democrats by Democrats."

Where is Carlisle?

Under Finneran's plan, Meehan's home city of Lowell, Lawrence, and other towns would become part of the 6th district, pitting him in an uphill fight against another incumbent, Democratic congressman John Tierney of Salem. Carlisle and a number of surrounding towns would be placed in a new 4th district, lumped together with Cambridge, parts of Back Bay and Beacon Hill, Waltham, Newton, and Concord and other west suburban towns (see box). Other towns in Meehan's current district would join the first, third and seventh districts, now represented by Edward Markey of Malden, James McGovern of Worcester, and John Olver of Amherst.

Local reaction

When contacted for comment, Carlisle's legislative representatives, Senator Susan Fargo (D) and Representative Carol Cleven (R), emphasized that "the story is not over." Both Cleven and Fargo are completely opposed to the Finneran plan. "The 5th has been a cohesive district for over 100 years," said Fargo. "Relationships between towns have developed and it's just a shame to break that up." Cleven spoke of a good working relationship with Meehan. "Meehan has been responsive and has worked well [with her] on constituent concerns."

Meehan's support of local issues was echoed by Carlisle Selectman Vivian Chaput who remembered that Meehan was "tremendously helpful in getting funding" for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to purchase the O'Rourke farm. She will "truly regret not being in his district and we appreciate all his actions in behalf of the town."

However Concord representative Cory Atkins, a member of the House redistricting committee charged with drawing redistricting plan, was quoted in the Concord Journal as praising Finneran's plan for keeping "communities of interest" together and creating a southeastern Massachusetts seat. According to the same article, Atkins felt Meehan's "mixed messages" on whether he would run for governor had made him "vulnerable."

It's not over

The state Senate is also due to propose a plan, but this will not be ready before September, as the Senate awaits preliminary work by the towns and the outcome of the September 11 primary to choose a candidate to replace the late Joe Moakley in the 9th congressional district, according to state house sources. Eventually, sometime in early fall, the issue will go to a joint conference committee consisting of three members each from the House and the Senate, two from the majority party and one from minority.

"You will get a lot of headlines out of this [the redistricting]," said Fargo. "Nothing is decided," said Cleven.

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