A few days ago I overheard a conversation about support of Dave Rogers vs Jim Gammill for State Rep. In the 24th Middlesex district, Dave is running as a Democrat, Jim as an independent, and Tomi Olson as Republican. One woman was in adamant support of Jim over Dave, and the number one reason for that: because Jim lives in Belmont. (Dave lives in one corner of the district, in Cambridge, while Jim lives in a another corner, Belmont Hill.) A minute later she went into why she supported Margaret Hegarty in the primary: because Margaret lives in Belmont and because Margaret is a woman.
To me (and others within earshot), this display of parochial, Belmont-centric tunnel vision was disappointing. If just one proposal or policy idea was mentioned as a primary reason, everyone would have been OK.
I used to think having districts split over multiple towns and towns split over multiple districts was a negative, or at least messy. In my 25 years living in Watertown, Arlington, and Belmont, the district lines have moved after every census, both inside and outside Belmont. Before 2002 our district did not have parts of Cambridge. Each district has about 40,000 people. I've grown to like the messiness.
Yes, candidates might have to get out of their comfort zones a lot more. There is a new set of town-centric issues to explore and another set of town officials to get to know and seek support from. Candidates get to wrestle with competing concerns, and differing perspectives on the same problems. But the job is in the state legislature - The General Court of Massachusetts - where their work should benefit both the state as a whole and their own districts in the larger context of communities. The winner in the 24th will need to work with colleagues from 350 other towns. Having one's constituency from several communities hopefully makes them better at this on day one.
Multi-town districts can also force voters to think outside their isolated worlds. How does Belmont or Arlington or Cambridge fit with its neighbors? Hopefully, we'll consider "what's in it for us" over "what's in it for me". I also think it makes people think more about the different roles of state vs local governments. For a thoughtful voting decision, it is definitely more work. Unfortunately many of us spend no more time on voting "homework" than we do on a purchase from Amazon.com.
Our State Representative and State Senator can bring more of the bigger picture and the perspective of other towns in their districts home to us. It will surely not always be what we want to hear, but it might be what we need to hear. I like to think that reps and senators can encourage more cooperation among constituent communities. For all the bluster over "regionalization" from our own Belmont officials the past decade, there as been very little substantial movement.
Life is rarely comes in individually-wrapped, hermetically-sealed servings. It looks more like my garage.