Too many Democrats, too few elective offices in Bay State

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MASSACHUSETTS Democrats have a big problem on their hands - an overabundance of members and nowhere near enough elective offices to go around. And even if Gov. Michael Dukakis wins the presidency, it won't help a bit, for the next two years at least, since his Bay State executive chair would be taken over by Lt. Gov. Evelyn F. Murphy and her current seat left vacant.

And the long-range outlook on the political opportunity front for would-be, upward-bound Democrats throughout the Commonwealth appears none too bright. Looming ever larger on the horizon is the perhaps almost certain loss, four years hence, of one of the state's now 11 congressional seats.

Only a major upswing in Massachusetts population, between now and the next federal census in early 1990, could prevent shrinkage of the Commonwealth's representation in the United States House, as of January 1993.

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It's now pretty much a question of whose congressional chair will go. Obviously, Bay State Democratic leaders, whose party now holds a 10 to 1 advantage over the Republican opposition in the Massachusetts delegation to the US House, are hoping to hold on to what they have.

But try as hard as they surely will, when the congressional redistricting tug-of-war begins, it may be impossible to achieve that goal and make sure the House seat that goes is the Republican-occupied one.

Such efforts would involve recarving the Commonwealth into 10 equal, or near equal, parts, each embracing at least a majority of Democrats. That may well be achievable but not without putting two incumbent Democratic congressmen into the same district.

One potential plan being discussed, and none too quietly in some lawmaking quarters both on Beacon Hill and in Washington, would divide western Massachusetts in such a way as to combine portions of the 1st district, long held by Republican US Rep. Silvio Conte of Pittsfield, and the 2nd district where Springfield Mayor Richard Neal is expected to replace retiring veteran Rep. Edward Boland, a fellow Democrat from his home city.

That might entail stretching the 3rd district, held by Democratic Rep. Joseph Early, considerably to the west as well as the north of his native Worcester - and in the process adding several predominantly Republican towns.

No lawmaker, especially one who is politically entrenched, wants his or her elective territory changed. But most (if not all) the Bay State House members seem certain to be affected, at least modestly, by the redistricting following the 1990 federal census.

Because of this, there is little doubt the state legislature (which ultimately must do the job) will give the congressmen pretty much what they want, or at least feel they could live with.

As in the past, the redistricting blueprint finally drafted seems likely to reflect more the political survival interests of individual Bay State congressmen. What might make better sense is to keep each territory as compact as possible, as well as containing approximately the same number of inhabitants in accordance with ``one-man, one-vote'' standards.

If one district has to be eliminated, as is now indicated, the easiest to go, from both a geographical and population standpoint, might be the 7th, the turf of Malden Democrat Edward Markey. But it is questionable whether that would happen, or even be considered by those recarving the state, since he is one of the more visible and politically popular members within the state's congressional delegation.

Abolition of his district, with its communities shifted to neighboring districts, would force Mr. Markey to compete for reelection with a fellow congressman from either the 6th district of Nicholas Mavroules, a Peabody Democrat, or the 8th district of freshman Rep. Joseph Kennedy II, a Boston Democrat and nephew of US Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

The redistricting chore would be a lot easier were one of the present Massachusetts congressmen to voluntarily step aside or move on to other activities before the tough decision of who gets what territory has to be made.

The districts least likely to disappear or be substantially cannibalized are the 5th and 10th, those now represented by State Democratic chairman Chester G. Atkins of Concord and Gerry E. Studds, the Cohasset Democrat, whose turf embraces much of the Commonwealth's fastest growing southeast corner, including Cape Cod.

What could make the upcoming redistricting particularly awkward for the Democrats with their overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the Bay State legislature as well as within the congressional delegation, is the lack of a GOP seat in the eastern part of the state that could be wiped out.

After the 1950 census, for example, when the Commonwealth had to lose two of its then 14 House seats, a compromise between leaders of the two parties led to abolishing one seat in each party.

At this point at least there is nothing to suggest that this fall's congressional election will change the political makeup of the Commonwealth's congressional delegation. Most of the incumbents have little or no ballot opposition either in the Sept. 15 party primaries or in the Nov. 8 election.

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