Government

The next battle in Rhode Island: Redistricting

“The choice of choosing the people on the redistricting committee is a clear power grab and move to keep diverse voices out of the next decade of decisions,” said Senator Mack. “The senate’s presidents decision to not include the only Black woman in the senator nor any of the three openly queer members of chambers reflects a lack of [commitment] to honoring the increased diversity of the chamber in the last election cycle.”
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Published on August 13, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

With the release of the United States Census data, Rhode Island General Assembly leadership has announced the membership for Rhode Island’s Special Reapportionment Commission, the body that will use the recently released census data to redraw the voting maps for the General Assembly and the state’s two congressional districts.

These new voting district maps will shape our elections for the next ten years, and that means powerful political forces, as they have routinely done in the past, will control the process tightly The announced membership of the reapportionment commission bears this out, as it is full of political allies and insiders loyal to General Assembly leadership.

For more on redististricting and gerrymandering in Rhode Island, see:

For the first time, however, the general public has the computational ability to meaningfully interact and contribute to the redistricting process. As Common Cause RI states in a recent press release, “2021 is our year to flip the script and ensure that the voices of our communities, particularly those of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander and other communities of color are at the center of the conversation.”

Efforts to reform the redistricting process, by establishing a system that selects a more fair and representational group of Rhode Islanders to redraw the maps, failed. Instead, the General Assembly passed status quo legislation (S0852A/H6222A) to establish an 18-member special commission on reapportionment whose purpose would be to redraw the maps and submit these maps as a bill for General Assembly approval.

The commission consists of 18 members – six from the Senate, six from the House of Representatives, three from the general public that are appointed by Speaker of the House Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick), and three from the general public that are appointed by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence).

The appointees chosen drew immediate criticism from the Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC, who write, “The appointment of members of the State Redistricting Commission… is a clear act to shut out progressive voices as [they] poses an immediate threat to leadership in the State of Rhode Island. As our state continues to become more diverse and more forward thinking, progressive voters are not being represented in these committees by the elected officials that they voted for.

“BLM RI PAC demands that House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio immediately reconsider the members of the State Redistricting Commission by including progressive elected officials that reflect the best interest of the communities they serve.”

State Senator Tiara Mack (Democrat, District 6, Providence) was also vocal in her opposition to the makeup to the reapportionment commission.

“The choice of choosing the people on the redistricting committee is a clear power grab and move to keep diverse voices out of the next decade of decisions,” said Senator Mack. “The senate’s presidents decision to not include the only Black woman in the senator nor any of the three openly queer members of chambers reflects a lack of [commitment] to honoring the increased diversity of the chamber in the last election cycle.”

Senator Mack defeated Harold Metts in the last election, yet Metts was chosen to be on the commission.

“It is also important to note that former Senator Harold Metts was chosen as a community representative to represent this committee,” continued Senator Mack. “The voters chose me to lead in the next important chapter of our policy around climate justice, criminal justice, and housing justice. These are all decisions that are impacted by how we redistrict our state.”

On top of all this, General Assembly leadership has retained, once again, Kimball Brace as their redistricting expert, who has been helping Democrats gerrymander Rhode Island for almost four decades. Kimball Brace is legendary in redistricting circles for having having a car with the vanity plate GMANDR and for being the topic of a Daily Show report.

Failing to address the redistricting issue in the General Assembly means the battle now moves to the meetings of the Redistricting Commission which, if they follow a similar pattern to ten years ago, means bringing a strong public presence to the public meetings that will be held around the state. However, with the recent rise of the Covid Delta variant, public meetings may be held online only, preventing diverse participation.

Speaker Shekarchi has appointed:

  • Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence)
  • Representative Grace Diaz (Democrat, District 11, Providence)
  • Representative Katherine Kazarian (Democrat, District 63, East Providence)
  • Representative Brian Newberry (Republican, District 48, North Smithfield, Burrillville)
  • Representative Robert Phillips (Democrat, District 51, Woonsocket, Cumberland)
  • Representative David Place (Republican, District 47, Burrillville, Glocester)
  • Antonio Lopes, the CEO and founder of TILT Communications
  • Kaprece Ransaw, a real estate agent
  • Stephen Ucci, the former State Representative who co-chaired the reapportionment commission 10 years ago.

President Ruggerio has appointed:

  • Senator Stephen Archambault (Democrat, District 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston)
  • Senator Walter Felag Jr (Democrat, District 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton)
  • Senator Ana Quezada (Democrat, District 2, Providence)
  • Senator Susan Sosnowski (Democrat, District 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham)
  • Senator Jessica de la Cruz (Republican, District 23, Burrillville, Glocester, North Smithfield)
  • Senator Gordon Rogers (Republican, District 21, Foster, Coventry, Scituate, West Greenwich)
  • Maria Bucci, a former Cranston City Council member
  • Alvin Reyes, an organizer with IBEW Local 99
  • Harold Metts, a former state senator, retired school administrator, and community leader. Senator Metts was the lead plaintiff in a 2002 lawsuit which led to the doubling of minority representation in the Senate.

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