Avon population

After redesigned districts, many more candidates of color are set to join the ranks of the State House

In four House districts drawn without incumbents, Democrats nominated a woman of color in each. Pavel Payano, a Dominican American, is set to represent Lawrence, a Latino-majority town, in the Senate after decades of having only white senators. The slate of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, currently made up of 17 members, could increase by at least seven in the next session, depending on the results of the general election in November.

“When we take the oath in January, this session will have more people of color than any other session in Commonwealth history. And that didn’t happen by accident,” said State Representative Michael J. Moran, a Brighton Democrat who led the once-a-decade House redistricting process.

Rep. Mike Moran (center) and Sen. Will Brownsberger led the state’s redistricting process last year.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Last year, the Legislative Assembly revised the state’s political maps following the 2020 census with a focus on reflecting the state’s rapidly diversifying population. This included redrawing the boundaries of many of its 200 legislative districts, with the goal of giving communities of color more political power.

Lawmakers doubled the number of Senate constituencies with majority minority populations to six and added 13 more in the House. four of these new House districts were unincumbent, opening up what lawmakers and advocates saw as one of the clearest avenues to diversify a legislature that remains far whiter than the state it represents.

As a first test, Tuesday’s primary was, in some ways, an affirmation. A woman of color won the nomination in those four districts, including Sousa, chairwoman of the Framingham school board. And in two more In majority-minority neighborhoods in the House that had open seats in Boston, a person of color is the Democratic nominee.

According to the Drawing Democracy Coalition, a collection of advocacy groups, the number of candidates of color running jumped 25% from two years ago in the 39 majority-minority districts the Legislature selected.

“We can see something different is happening,” said William Dickerson, executive director of the nonprofit Brockton Interfaith Community. “Part of that is the result of redrawing the lines. We see it right in front of us. »

Of course, revamping the political lines does not guarantee an immediate change of guard, if ever. In 2011, legislators also made a concerted effort to encourage more diverse representation. They created the state’s first majority-minority congressional district, where in 2018 Ayanna Pressley upset Michael E. Capuano into gaining power.

They also doubled the number of majority-minority seats in the House, then from 10 to 20. But a decade later, barely half of those 20 districts were actually represented by lawmakers of color.

Of the 39 such districts in the House and Senate this year, Democratic primary voters on Tuesday named white incumbents in 20 of them, according to a Globe analysis.

That includes Brockton, where, under enormous pressure, lawmakers created a new majority-minority Senate district to encompass New England’s only black majority city. State Sen. Michael D. Brady, a white Democrat from Brockton, easily brushed off a lead challenge from Katrina Huff-Larmond, a Black Randolph councilwoman who said she ran, in part, because ‘it was ‘important to show that a person of color should Course.’

“It was important not to just leave it,” said Huff-Larmond, who said with a background as a clinical social worker, she could bring perspective to the field to address mental health and other issues.

Brady, however, has deep roots in Brockton and elsewhere in the district. The 60-year-old incumbent said his late brother served as a councilor at Avon, a new addition to the district, and worked to connect with Brockton’s growing Haitian and Cape Verdean populations.

“I’m very active in those communities,” Brady said. “They call me their brother.”

Advocates also warn that it’s far too early to judge a political map from a single election, let alone a primary. Analysts say the reconfigured cards can help provide opportunities for new applicants, but they’re still just one piece of a complicated puzzle.

Incumbent power remains real in Massachusetts, where political insiders are typically white and male. Nor is the goal of a majority-minority constituency necessarily to elect a person of color, but to give those communities of color more of a voice in electing their preferred candidate. It could be a white candidate, just as some people of color now represent Beacon Hill neighborhoods dominated by white residents.

“We are definitely taking a long-term view in many of these districts. In some places, it will require the incumbent to step aside to run multiple candidates of color,” said Beth Huang, executive director of the Massachusetts Voter Table. “Redistricting alone will not be the solution for representation.”

Pavel Payano stood on Essex Street in downtown Lawrence.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Where there have been changes this fall, in many cases candidates have taken advantage of them. This included a seat in the Merrimack Valley Senate where the majority of residents identified as Hispanic. The new map separated Lawrence from Andover – its much wealthier predominantly white neighbor who regularly produced Lawrence’s senator – and instead associated the immigrant town with parts of Haverhill and the rapidly diversifying Methuen.

Payano, a Lawrence city councilman who has run for the state Senate twice before, came out of a three-way primary for the seat. Without a Republican challenger in November, he is poised, along with Boston’s Liz Miranda, to be one of two new people of color to win Senate seats this fall and bring the total to four in the chamber.

Another Lawrence councilwoman, Estela Reyes, won the Democratic primary in the new Fourth District of Essex House, another minority-majority district with no incumbent.

Chelsea Councilor Judith García said the Legislative Assembly’s decision to redraw an unincumbent House ward encompassing the city, where more than two-thirds of the 40,000 people are Latino, motivated her to run . The 30-year-old won her primary and if she won in November against Republican Todd Taylor, another city councilman, she said she would be the first Honduran American ever elected to the House.

“I saw a clear path to victory as a woman of color,” García said. “For the first time, Chelsea have the strong majority of votes to stand in an election and win it.”

Chelsea Councilor Judith García is the Democratic candidate for Suffolk House’s 11th District.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Back in Brockton, city councilor and Brazilian immigrant Rita Mendes won the Democratic nomination for another unincumbent seat. She faces no Republican opponents, but is assured that she will join what had been the city’s all-white State House delegation.

“This new neighborhood has been a game changer,” said Mendes, a 38-year-old lawyer. 11th Plymouth previously included Easton, home of its last representative, Claire D. Cronin, who is white. It now only includes parts of Brockton, a town where a third of the population were born abroad.

“Maybe I would have run around that old neighborhood again. I don’t know if the results would have been the same,” Mendes said. “I kept saying [residents], ‘We are the majority, we have the voice, we have the power.’ We need real representation at the State House of those who lived through the struggles.

Sousa, the Framingham district candidate, said she too hopes her victory can embolden others.

“One of my best friends has two little girls,” she said. “When she congratulated me [on the primary win], the conversation quickly turned to “Do you think the girls can visit you at the State House?” I want them to see someone like you do this.

Matt Stout can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.