Legislative assembly

Rotary’s political constituency redesign commission appointed

PROVIDENCE – A day before the US Census Bureau’s release of new population figures, House and Senate leaders on Wednesday announced the composition of the 18-member commission that will redraw the state’s political boundaries for the next decade.

Lest there be any doubt that this decade-long legislative and congressional reshuffle is worth watching closely, here’s the reminder:

Providence Journal, June 4, 1982: “Judge James C. Bulman yesterday declared the State Senate redistribution plan to be an unconstitutional ‘gerrymander’ and called it an attempt by Senate leaders to ‘punish’ them. political opponents. “

Among the conclusions of the state judge:

“The voting strength of black residents of the Mount Hope section on the east side was ‘dramatically diminished’ when the neighborhood, despite the objection of black community leaders, was severed from its ties to the east side and placed in a neighborhood dominated by Pawtucket voters. “

Then-Senate Majority Leader Rocco Quattrocchi was fired to the drawing board not once, but twice before a redistribution plan was passed.

Now the process is beginning again, after an election year that showed how potentially vulnerable the most conservative Democrats in the legislature are to progressive challengers in their home districts.

Case in point: Senate Speaker Dominick Ruggerio was re-elected last year from 54.7% to 45.3%, but his challenger, Lenny Cioe, won all of the Providence constituencies in their Providence-North Providence senatorial district.

The legislation creating the “special commission on redistribution” defined the members, including six members of the House appointed by President K. Joseph Shekarchi (4) and Republican minority leader Blake Filippi (2); six senators appointed by Ruggerio (4) and the leader of the Republican minority Dennis Alger (2).

Shekarchi and Ruggerio may also each designate three members of the public.

House appointees include Democratic Representative Katherine Kazarian of East Providence, the House Majority Whip; Arthur Corvese of North Providence; Grace Diaz of Providence, and Robert Phillips of Woonsocket, and Republican Representatives Brian Newberry of North Smithfield and David Place of Burrillville.

Members of the public appointed by Shekarchi are former Rep. Stephen Ucci, who co-chaired the Redistribution Commission 10 years ago; Antonio “Tony” Lopes, CEO and Founder of Tilt Communications; and Kaprece Ransaw, an African-American real estate agent.

House spokesman Larry Berman confirms Shekarchi recommends Phillips as co-chair.

Senate appointees include Democratic Senators Stephen R. Archambault of Smithfield, Walter S. Felag Jr. of Warren, Ana B. Quezada of Providence and V. Susan Sosnowski of South Kingstown; and Republicans Jessica de la Cruz of Burrillville and Gordon E. Rogers of Foster.

Members of the public nominated by Ruggerio so far are: Alvin Reyes, an IBEW Local 99 organizer; former Providence Senator Harold M. Metts, the main plaintiff in a 2002 lawsuit that led to the doubling of minority representation in the Senate; and Maria Bucci, former member of Cranston City Council, chair of the Democratic Town of Cranston committee.

Metts was defeated in a Democratic primary in 2020 by progressive Tiara Mack.

Enrique Sanchez, the political director of BLack Lives Matter RI PAC was among the first to tweet a concern about choices: “There are no progressive elected officials … Moderate and conservative Democrats will do whatever it takes. their power to prevent the progressives from winning more seats next year.We have to be ready.

The committee’s findings and recommendations to the General Assembly are expected on January 15.

The newly appointed commission is not starting from scratch.

General Assembly leaders quietly approved the latest in a series of contract extensions for election consultant Kimball Brace’s company, Election Data Services, in December 2019.

Since 2016, the company has received a total of $ 1,108,725 for its behind-the-scenes efforts to prepare Rhode Island for the next big “split,” including $ 423,683.87 in the fiscal year ended June 30.

The contract requires Brace, who worked on the elections for Rhode Island for nearly four decades, to begin compiling the ballot records and preparing maps for the state’s legislative districts to match the new population numbers. .

Among his assigned tasks, ahead of the release of the latest census data: “Obtain an updated voter registration file from the Secretary of State and geocode the information to help determine the correct location of city limits, the city and the constituency. “

Also: Compile “Constituency-Level Election Results, Primary, Special Election and General Election Registration and Turnout Figures 2010-2018 for All State and Legislative Offices.”

Brace’s work for Rhode Island legislative leaders dates back to 1982, the year he testified as an expert witness in support of a state Senate card deemed unconstitutional for attempting to harm prospects election campaign of the senator at the time. Richard A. Licht, a Democrat, then Lila M. Sapinsley, a Republican, Senate Minority Leader, by merging their neighboring East Side districts.

Although Brace’s testimony did not convince the judge the district was fair, it did impress Coven leaders, who hired him to draw the new maps in the future.

The 2021 law that sets the stage for the next “payout” sets out the standards that those appointed politicians charged with this hyperpolitical task must follow. Among them:

“The legislative constituencies of Congress and the states should be as populated as possible. … In no case can a single State Senate [or House] district have a population that varies by more than 5% from the average.

“To the extent possible”, districts should also “reflect natural, historical, geographic, municipal and other lines and communities of interest, as well as the right of all Rhode Islanders to fair representation and equal access to the public. political process. “

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