The ever-intense MA Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz joined us today, centering on redistricting, transgender rights, and education. Not only is she a progressive leader in LGBT issues, she chairs the Joint Committee on education and is vice-chair of the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting.
With yesterday’s announcement that U.S. Rep. Barney Frank will not run for reelection next year, of course, we immediately jumped to the just completed redistricting effort. MA had to go from 10 US House seats to 9, and Frank cited the resulting map as a catalyst for his decision. His new district loses several liberal strongholds, such as New Bedford.
She said “there are things that are not difficult to know when you look at the map.” Yet, the redistricting body, she added, neither protected nor punished anyone and “did not put politics first and did not put incumbents first.” Listen in as she describes the committee’s mandate and very high bar for balancing districts down to identical numbers of voters, while keeping “communities of interest” together. Those were such as areas with residents of color that share concerns, or coast areas with interest in fishing, or agricultural communities. She noted that the resulting map successfully increased majority minority communities by 50% in the House and 100% (from 10 to 20) in the Senate.
For the transgender-rights bill, she described its passage as one of the things she was “truly, truly thankful for” last week. She noted that advocates had worked for up to eight years to gain the anti-discrimination protections for employment, credit and housing among other areas. The bill finally passed without a public-accommodations provision, which would include hotels, restaurants, locker rooms and even restroom access by gender identification. Listen in as she describes how the effort to include those areas will continue, but she can’t project a schedule.
Personally too, including as a former public-school teacher, she is very strong on her dropout bill (S.185). She wants to prevent the 8,000 MA students a year who “walk out the front door of their school and don’t come back.” They often end up in the penal system or on public assistance instead of contributing to the economy and larger life. Listen in as she speaks of one-on-one coaching for students identified as at risk, about aiding parental involvement, about early warning indicators, and the role of discipline.