Area lawmakers acclimate to redrawn districts 

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 01-16-2023 4:50 PM

The region’s state legislators are getting acclimated to their newly redrawn districts but say their day-to-day lives won’t change much, as they were elected to represent the people, regardless of political affiliation, and who share similar concerns.

In November 2021, then-Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law new districts based on population counts from census data. These districts were effective for the 2022 elections and went into effect earlier this month.

Greenfield, previously represented by Paul Mark, will now be shared by state Reps. Natalie Blais and Susannah Whipps. Mark, a Peru Democrat, was in November elected to be the new state senator for the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden District vacated by Adam Hinds. Blais and Whipps said they are excited to add Greenfield — the only city and largest municipality in Franklin County — to their constituency, though it will not alter their work or advocacy.

“It’s not changing the way that I do business every day,” Blais, a Sunderland Democrat said. “I’ve made it a point to ... be present in each and every community that I represent, so right now we’re in the process of meeting with each and every selectboard in the First Franklin (District) and have already met with the mayor of Greenfield.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing in terms of keeping the lines of communication open with constituents so they know if there is any bill that they support or oppose they can contact my office so that I can advocate for them on Beacon Hill,” she continued.

Blais said she now represents 42,982 residents over a 450-square-mile range.

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“It’s been a very interesting time,” she said.

Whipps, a former Republican and the independent House member from Athol in the state Legislature, said she is disappointed to lose some of the constituents she has represented for the past eight years but echoed Blais’ sentiment that it is exciting to welcome different people to her constituency.

“It’s very fun picking up new towns,” she said.

Democrat Aaron Saunders, D-Belchertown, defeated Republican nominee James “Chip” Harrington in November to win the right to represent the newly designed 7th Hampden District, which includes Pelham and Shutesbury and several other Franklin County and North Quabbin towns, some of which Whipps had previously represented.

State Rep. Jonathan D. Zlotnik will now serve Templeton, which had previously been one of Whipps’ towns. Whipps said she has complete confidence in Saunders and Zlotnick.

Whipps said she plans to hold office hours from noon to 3 p.m. in Room 101 of Greenfield Community College’s East Building on the second and fourth Monday of each month. Whipps fended off a challenge from former Athol firefighter and paramedic Jeffrey Raymond to remain the 2nd Franklin District’s representative.

State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, lost Colrain, Whately and South Hadley and picked up Athol, Ashburnham, Winchendon and Petersham.

“I now almost circle the Quabbin, which is extraordinary,” she said.

Comerford, recently sworn in to her third, two-year term, said the former and current districts are in many ways very similar, both with a strong need for economic development, transportation access, education spending, and health care equity. She mentioned she will have a sharpened focus on the Quabbin Reservoir because “I have a greater responsibility to it now.”

She said she represents a much bigger geography now but people everywhere need the same services.

She mentioned she plans to file roughly 65 bills pertaining mostly to health care, education, and the environment by the Jan. 20 deadline.

“I’m so excited about the bills I’m filing,” she said, “And they’re strong proposals, I think.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.

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