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Get ready to testify on redistricting at the State House next Thursday

Public comment will also be taken. So make sure to get your testimony ready and demand that the commission conduct itself in as fair and nonpartisan a way as possible.
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Published on September 3, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

The Rhode Island General Assembly‘s Special Commission on Reapportionment, aka the “redistricting commission,” will hold its first public meeting on Thursday, September 9, at 4pm in Room 313 of the State House.

It will be an organizational meeting that will include the election of the co-chairs, one from the House and one from the Senate. A presentation will be made by gerrymander expert Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Service Inc, a consulting firm from Virginia that will assist the commission.

Kimball Brace has been helping Democrats gerrymander Rhode Island for almost four decades. He is legendary in redistricting circles for having a car with the vanity plate GMANDR and for being the topic of a Daily Show report.

Public comment will also be taken. So make sure to get your testimony ready and demand that the commission conduct itself in as fair and nonpartisan a way as possible.

Not sure you know enough about redistricting and gerrymandering to have anything meaningful to say? Common Cause RI has you covered. They have convened two community mapping trainings so you can advocate for fair maps, and the first training is scheduled for the day before the first redistricting commission meeting. “The same material will be covered in each workshop so you only need to attend one session,” writes Common Cause RI. “We’ll teach you the basics of redistricting as well as how you can draw maps of your community using free software. The trainings will also include instruction about how you can testify before state and local redistricting commissions.”

You can register for the September 8 training here, and the September 19 training here.

There will be other opportunities after the first meeting to testify as well.

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The 2020 census data was made public on August 12, 2021, which is several months later than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 18-member commission, whose job is to use the results of the census to redraw district lines to reflect population shifts, was chosen by House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. The commission must make its recommendations to the General Assembly by January 15, 2022, so there is limited time for the public to influence the commission.

The General Assembly rejected calls from Common Cause RI, its own membership and members of the public to establish an Independent Redistricting Commission, and instead passed legislation that once again vests power in connected political interests.

According to the legislation (S0852A / H6222A) signed into law by Governor Daniel McKee, the commission is comprised of six House and six Senate members, requiring each chamber to have four members from the majority party and two from the minority party. Three members of the public are appointed by each chamber as well, but the Senate President and House Speaker stacked the deck further in their favor by choosing political allies who are also former legislators.

The appointments drew immediate criticism.

Speaker Joseph Shekarchi has appointed Representatives Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence), Grace Diaz (Democrat, District 11, Providence), Katherine Kazarian (Democrat, District 63, East Providence), Brian Newberry (Republican District 48, North Smithfield, Burrillville), Robert Phillips (Democrat, District 51, Woonsocket, Cumberland) and David Place (Republican District 47, Burrillville, Glocester).

From the general public, the Speaker has appointed Antonio Lopes, the CEO and founder of TILT Communications; Kaprece Ransaw, a real estate agent; and former State Representative Stephen Ucci, who co-chaired the reapportionment commission 10 years ago.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has appointed Senators Stephen Archambault (Democrat, District 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston), Walter Felag Jr (Democrat, District 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton), Ana Quezada (Democrat, District 2, Providence), Susan Sosnowski (Democrat, District 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), Jessica de la Cruz (Republican District 23, Burrillville, Glocester, North Smithfield) and Gordon Rogers (Republican District 21, Foster, Coventry, Scituate, West Greenwich).

From the general public, the Senate President has appointed Maria Bucci, a former Cranston City Council member; Alvin Reyes, an organizer with IBEW Local 99; and Harold Metts, a former state senator, retired school administrator, and community leader.

All meetings will be live streamed and televised on Capitol Television, which can be seen on Cox Channels 15 and 61, on Full Channel on Channel 15 and on Channel 34 by Verizon subscribers. UpriseRI will be covering every meeting, in detail, with full video.

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