The Download: Redistricting – there’s an app for that

Why is meeting with members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation the first order of business for Beacon Hill’s point men on redistricting, Rep. Michael Moran and Sen. Stanley Rosenberg?

Massachusetts Republican Party chief Jennifer Nassour criticized Moran directly for the private meetings. But House Minority Leader Brad Jones told the State House News Service that Moran, a Brighton Democrat, has made a good faith effort to meet GOP lawmakers and that as long as there are public sessions, he isn’t troubled by the congressional meetings. (According to the News Service, the Legislature must wait for the official release of 2010 Census data, likely by the end of March, before lawmakers can go full tilt into the process.)

Even so, Beacon Hill insider confabs are not what the MetroWest Daily News has in mind. Labeling redistricting the ultimate “incumbent protection program,” a Daily News editorial argues that the redistricting committee co-chairs are sending the signal that members of Congress are getting first dibs at drawing their own district maps, thereby picking the voters they’d like to represent on Capitol Hill.

Moran and Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, met with US Reps. Richard Neal, John Olver, and Nikki Tsongas last week, and they are off to Washington to meet with the rest of the delegation next week.

“There’s nothing fair and equitable about letting incumbents – but not potential challengers – decide where the district lines will be drawn,” says the Daily News. “And there’s nothing transparent about private meetings with those who would be most affected by the Legislature’s work.” 

The cartoon accompanying the editorial has a provocative nine-piece gerrymandering puzzle (talk about battle of the incumbents), along with exercises in extreme gerrymandering, including a “Democratic Redistricting Plan” that offers up some GOP towns to Rhode Island.

Coming up with personalized redistricting ideas is not as far fetched as the cartoon suggests. According to Stateline.org, there are several major “do-it-yourself” redistricting mapping software applications that could give citizens a more active role in the process.

Dave Bradlee, a Microsoft developer and political junkie, came up with his own “Dave’s Resdistricting” app that lets users draw congressional districts “the way you think they should be.” The article points to an even more complex app, District Builder, launched under the auspices of The Public Mapping Project, the brainchild of two Brookings Institution experts.

Move over fantasy baseball: Florida and Idaho are also looking at applications that would allow voters to propose their own configurations. The Florida Legislature is more geeky than most: The House is using Microsoft for its maps while the Senate has turned to open source software. 

Most Massachusetts residents would prefer that state lawmakers get out of the way and let others do the heavy lifting on redistricting. A recent MassINC poll found strong support for convening an independent  redistricting commission. But legislative leaders have rejected that idea. Apps or no apps, Massachusetts lawmakers intend to do things the old school way, behind closed doors.

                                                                                                                                                            –GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

The Globe gets a sneak peak at Gov. Deval Patrick‘s book, in which he says he considered resigning only weeks after taking office because of the toll public life was taking on his wife, Diane, who was hospitalized for depression.

Radio Boston hosts a discussion about the state’s economic development initiatives with Eric Nakajima, the Patrick administration’s senior innovation policy advisor, and Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute.

Jim Braude’s Broadside talks about redistricting with Democratic Rep. William Straus and Republican Rep. Paul Frost.

PUBLIC FINANCE

As Congress weighs letting states seek bankruptcy protection, the Wall Street Journal dives deep into the problems roiling municipal bonds, and finds no corollary to the mortgage bond crisis that brought down the economy two years ago. That doesn’t mean states and municipalities won’t face higher borrowing costs, though. The Journal also contrasts the way investors are treating states’ budget deficits and debt levels in this interactive graphic. Massachusetts fares quite well, despite the state’s high debt levels.

HOUSING

Springfield officials want Massachusetts to come up with better ways to let homeowners know that they face foreclosure. The city had the most foreclosures in the state last year.

HEALTH CARE

Brian McGrory continues to be outraged at the way Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center handled the departure of its former president, Paul Levy.

Boston’s Floating Hospital for Children, which has long struggled in the shadow of the city’s top-shelf pediatric hospitals, is on the upswing thanks to the new focus on health care costs.

Keller@Large offers some tips to First Lady Michelle Obama on helping her husband stay tobacco-free.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston Mayor Tom Menino wants promises on wages, benefits and neighborhood benefits before he’ll let Wal-Mart open a store in his city.

Cambridge City Manager Robert W. Healy Jr. makes $336,317 a year, more than any other municipal manager in the state. But his upcoming retirement may be even more lucrative, with a pension of $250,000 a year and lifetime nursing home care insurance for him and his wife. The report was written by the Cambridge Day and the Initiative for Investigative Reporting at Northeastern University.

Lawrence public sector unions ask state labor officials to quash Mayor William Lantigua’s order restricting the public comments of city employees, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Lynn ’s chief financial officer is grilled by city councilors at a special hearing on allegations of financial mismanagement, the Item reports.

Two Boston city councilors want to extend the city’s smoking ban to public parks and beaches, the Globe reports.

The cupola on top of Middleboro Town Hall is leaning precariously and town officials want the state to waive the open bidding requirements so they can take it down quickly before it crashes down.

Plainville  is struggling to pay for its share of a $38 million wastewater project in North Attleboro

WASHINGTON

House Republicans set their sights on health care funding and abortion restrictions

The Obama administration announced a plan to spend $53 billion on rail projects over the next six years. 

Slate’s Fred Kaplan says Donald Rumsfeld‘s new memoir adds the title of “the most mendacious political memoirist” to an ignominious rap that also includes “the most destructive secretary of defense in American history.” So, not a fan? 

Ari Berman, on The Nation‘s website, weighs in with a less than tear-stained eulogy for the Democratic Leadership Council, though he acknowledges that the group’s demise is partly a reflection of how broadly its approach has seeped into Democratic Party thinking, including in Obama’s White House.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Falmouth  zoning officials still can’t decide what to do about the town’s wind turbine trouble.

The Berkshire East Ski Resort, which will become the third ski resort in the world to be wind-powered, will sell about half the energy the turbine generates, taking advantage of the state’s net metering law which was the focus of a story by Bruce Mohl in CommonWealth’s winter issue.

The Gloucester Times, in an editorial, criticizes the EPA for requiring the city of Gloucester to upgrade its sewer plant.

A New York solar firm with a plant in Lowell receives a $4.8 million federal grant to perfect its solar panel manufacturing technique, the Sun reports.

DISCRIMINATION

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination ruled that a Downtown Crossing clothier was just an ornery old man, not a racist. Via Universal Hub.

EDUCATION

Dwindling state funds and a decline in enrollment have forced the Penikese Island School, a residential facility for troubled teen boys about 12 miles off the coast of Woods Hole, to shut down its classroom operations.

UNIONS

With new polls saying most Americans think unions cause more problems than they solve, WGBH’s Greater Boston takes a look at the state of labor unions and the image crisis they are facing.

FISHING

The Gloucester Times reports that 41 percent of the allocation of Georges Bank winter flounder is now controlled by just three fishing firms.

URBAN PLANNING

Salem residents and businesses seem to be leaning toward allowing vehicles on to the Essex Street pedestrian mall, the Salem News reports.

CRIME/CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Lynn police call for aid from six other towns to help quell a brawl outside a home, the Item reports.

SO LONG CIVILITY

An Alabama state lawmaker urges his fellow Republicans to “empty the clip” on illegal immigration. The predictable flood of outraged calls and fast backtracking ensued. Via Political Wire.

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