Two lawmakers who represent Cape Ann will sit on the influential committee responsible for redrawing the lines of the state's congressional districts.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr, R-Gloucester, and and Brad Hill, R-Ipswich, whose district includes all of Manchester, have been named to a joint legislative redistricting committee that will determine how to reduce the state's congressional districts from 10 to nine. Another North Shore lawmaker, state Reps. John Keenan, D-Salem, will sit on the panel.
Census figures released in December showed the state's population climbed at a slower pace than other regions, so Massachusetts will lose a congressional seat by the 2012 elections.
"This is one of the most important redistricting exercises in recent memory," said Tarr.
The committee will also redraw the lines in state legislators' districts where populations have shifted dramatically.
Meanwhile, Tarr said he's heard talk of drawing a district that would include both the Merrimack Valley and the North Shore, combining areas belonging to Congressman John Tierney and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas.
"They're two distinct regions," Tarr said. "There has been some thought about the consolidation of the two. That's something I'm watching very closely."
Neither Keenan nor Hill, however, would speculate on specific districts that could face consolidation.
Hill noted that many districts have been shaped in advantageous ways.
"Looking at the map, clearly they were gerrymandered to help specific legislators," Hill said. "The committee's goal is to rectify that situation. ... We're still waiting for the Census data (with precinct-by-precinct numbers). I can't be specific, but generally speaking ... I think we have an opportunity to right a few wrongs."
The committee is expected to hold a series of public hearings throughout the state. Keenan noted the body is under a tight deadline.
"We need to have this thing ready for the elections in 2012," Keenan said. "To do that, we need to wrap this up by the end of the year at the latest."
"Salem, in all likelihood, is unlikely to be one of the areas impacted in terms of state representative," Keenan said.
North Shore legislators insisted one of the committee's top priorities will be to conduct its business publicly.
"The goal of the committee is an open, transparent process," Keenan said.
"It means including every citizen of the commonwealth," Hill said. "If someone has concerns or a citizen feels something needs to be changed, we'll take all testimony."
Keenan said he asked House Speaker Robert DeLeo for the position, knowing tough decisions would have to be made.
"I come with no preconceived idea on how this is supposed to end," Keenan said. "It's a complete white sheet right now."
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