Massachusetts will be losing one of its 10 seats in the U.S. House as its population growth failed to keep pace with states in the western and southern part of the country, setting the stage for a potentially contentious redistricting debate.
The announcement came last week as the Census Bureau released state population totals that dictate how the nation reapportions all 435 House districts to the states.
The Massachusetts population grew 3.1 percent over the past decade to a total of 6,547,629 residents in the 2010 census.
A decade ago, Massachusetts narrowly hung onto all 10 of its House seats after losing a seat in 1990.
None of Massachusetts’ 10 House members have indicated that their upcoming term would be their last, although two — Michael Capuano and Stephen Lynch — have been mentioned as possible candidates against Republican Sen. Scott Brown in 2012.
Now it’s up to state lawmakers to draw new congressional district lines to reduce the number of districts from 10 to nine. The new map must be completed in time for the 2012 elections.
The last time Massachusetts lawmakers waded into a redistricting debate a decade ago, the process ended in court with former House Speaker Thomas Finneran, a Democrat, pleading guilty to a federal obstruction of justice charge after he denied playing a role in drawing districts for the new Massachusetts state House map.
That has prompted some in Massachusetts, including Democratic Secretary of State William Galvin and Republican lawmakers, to call for an independent redistricting commission to avoid a process Galvin has described as full of “secrecy and mischief.”
Legislative leaders have brushed aside calls for a commission.
Sen. President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, said the Senate has already begun preparing to draw new maps.
Murray has tapped Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, to lead the redistricting effort in the Senate.
Rosenberg has said the loss of a congressional seat combined with shifts in population from western Massachusetts toward the metropolitan Boston area will make the redistricting task tougher than a decade ago.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo has also shown little appetite for an independent commission. Earlier this year, DeLeo gave Rep. Michael Moran, D-Boston, the task of overseeing the redistricting process in the House.
Opponents sued after the most recent maps were drawn a decade ago, claiming the map of Massachusetts House districts discriminated against blacks and other minority voters in Boston while protecting Finneran and other incumbents.
During his testimony, Finneran repeatedly denied seeing the map until it was filed with the House clerk, even though there was nothing illegal about his playing a role in drafting it. He later said he misrepresented his role because he was offended by claims of racial bias.
The state’s loss of a seat in Congress is bad news for Democrats who have seen the nation’s population shift from Democratic strongholds like Massachusetts to Republican-leaning Sun Belt states.
Massachusetts bucked the national GOP trend in November, when all nine Democratic incumbents won re-election and the state’s one open seat went to the Democratic candidate.
The loss of a seats in Massachusetts also reflects the gradual loss of Northeast congressional seats in a region that once prided itself for holding a dominant position in the nation’s political landscape.
Massachusetts was home to former President John F. Kennedy and his brother, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, whose death last year forced the January special election won by Brown.
A century ago, Massachusetts had 16 seats in Congress.