The R.I. Reapportionment Commission approved new maps for the Congressional and state House and Senate districts at a hearing Monday night at the State House. The maps are redrawn every 10 years, following completion of the U.S. Census.
There will be an additional hearing to consider minor “pocket” changes Thursday.
Votes in favor of the state House and Senate district maps were unanimous; the vote on the U.S. Congressional district was closer, 11-6.
“I think it’s a good compromise,” said Commission co-chair Stephen Ucci (D-District 42, Cranston, Johnston). “Again, not everybody’s going to be happy with it. This turned out to be a lot more difficult than I thought it would be.”
For East Greenwich, the news was favorable - Senate district map proposal “E” splits the town into only two districts. Earlier maps had the town split into as many as four Senate districts. That prospect .
“We heard the plea of the East Greenwich people and fought to resolve that,” said Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services, the firm hired to assist in the redistricting process.
In Senate map “E”, EG maintains the same two-district representation is has now: District 35, currently held by Republican Dawson Hodgson of North Kingstown, and District 33, currently held by Republican Glen Shibley of Coventry. Shibley’s portion of the town, already small, is smaller in the new configuration.
"The new Senate district adopted by the reapportionment commission on Monday night is a win for East Greenwich," said Mark Schwager, a former Town Councilor who worked with a fellow Democrat and two Republicans to move the panel away from a 4-district model. "More than 90 percent of the town will be represented by a single senator. The district includes portions of North Kingstown and Narragansett with suburban demographic features similar to EG."
Town Council President Michael Issacs agreed.
"I am very pleased with the revision, which puts almost all of East Greenwich in a single Senate district," he said. "Under the previous plans, East Greenwich would effectively have been disenfranchised. This remedies that and assures that our town’s interests will be represented in the General Assembly."
In the U.S. Congressional redistricting, the divided vote illustrated that some were still unhappy that Democrat U.S. Rep. David Cicilline’s district would lose some of the Republican-leaning northwest towns. And there remained concerns about the location of the line dividing Providence between the two Congressional districts.
In Woonsocket, Rep. Lisa Badelli-Hunt (D-Dist. 49) spoke again Monday night, urging the commission to keep Woonsocket districts intact rather than have any of them flow into more suburban Cumberland.
She said she hoped the commission would consider a district map she’d worked on earlier in the day. “We drew the lines in such a way that we captured as many minorities in one district as we could, instead of creating very small pockets of minorities spread out within three districts,” she said.
“The city of Cumberland has grown the most in the state and so there’s a lot of extra people up there, which is why we’re leaning a district over in that direction,” Brace responded.
In the East Bay, population declines have resulted in the loss of a house seat. “By the time you get to Barrington and Bristol County,” Brace said, “you end up - particularly in the House - with not enough population to support everybody. We’ve got [district] 67 coming with most of Warren; [district] 66 is Barrington and the lower part of East Providence.”
Brace said he’s spent five hours on Monday with the East Bay delegation. Were they satisfied? “They accepted this proposal,” Brace said evenly.
Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt of North Kingstown spoke at the hearing because, he said, every time a new map has come out, more and more of his district has ended up with Rep. Doreen Costa (R- Dist. 32, N.K.).
“There’s no rhyme or reason as to why somebody started doing this trade off,” Ehrhardt said. He asked the commission to consider a map he worked out with Costa that would keep their two districts largely the same and simply divvy up the extra areas that need to be added to their districts because Rep. Donald Lally’s (D- Dist. 33, Narr., N.K.) district was too big.
Under the plan approved Monday, Ehrhardt’s district would no longer include Quidnesset or Davisville.
Co-chair Ucci stressed that the evening’s votes weren’t the last word.
“We are a reporting commission to the General Assembly,” he explained during the hearing. “Our report will then be submitted in January. It will then be up to the House and Senate to take these up as legislation to go through the normal legislative process. The plan would have to pass both sides of the House and Senate and then ultimately be determined by the governor.”
And, because public testimony was still being heard Monday night and maps were still being tweaked, the commission decided to reconvene on Thursday (12/22) at 4 p.m. to give everyone a chance to review the new maps which should be available by Wednesday, Ucci said. Public comment will again be allowed.