Two EG Republicans and two EG Democrats stood in solidarity Tuesday night to speak against a proposal that would cut East Greenwich into four state Senate districts. They appeared at a Reapportionment Commission Hearing at Warwick City Hall - one of several such hearings taking place around the state this month.
Redistricting occurs once every decade to reflect shifts in population detected by the U.S. Census.
On the national level, there will be no changes for East Greenwich - it will still be represented by two Senators (Democrats Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse now) and one Congressman (Democrat Jim Langevin now).
EG's state Representative District 30 won't change much either - that seat is currently held by Republican Bob Watson.
However, there are potentially huge changes in the configuration of the state Senate districts that represent East Greenwich. Currently, EG is represented by two state Senators, Dawson Hodgson of North Kingstown (Dist. 35) and Glen Shibley of Coventry (Dist. 30).
Of the four plans under discussion Tuesday, Proposal "A" would split EG into two districts; "B" would cut it into four districts; and "C" and "D" would divide it into three districts.
"I don’t think that’s the best way for East Greenwich - four districts," said Shibley after the hearing. Under three of the four proposals, Shibley or his successor would continue to represent a portion of East Greenwich.
"I think that this equally hurts Democrats and Republicans, which is why the four of us - two Democrats and two Republicans - provided testimony," said EG Town Council President Michael Isaacs. He read a joint statement to the commission, backed up by Republican Town Committee chair Chuck Newton, Democrat Town Committee chair Tom Plunkett and former Town Councilman Mark Schwager, a Democrat. (Their joint statement is attached as a pdf, right.)
"The way it divides East Greenwich into so many pieces, I think it minimizes the likehood of an East Greenwich resident, Republican or Democrat, getting elected to these Senate seats," Isaacs said.
Isaacs approached Schwager about working together on the redistricting plan.
“He called and asked what I thought about the redistricting. It just seemed that the best situation ... is when you have someone from the local community" representing you, said Schwager. "You just have good access and you have familiarity with that person. It just makes for good representative government.
"To have the town split into four different groups, it just doesn’t make sense," he continued. "We talked about just jointly keeping the town as intact as possible."
"We’re hopeful that it’s still a fluid process and that more alternatives will be presented," said Isaacs.
First-term senator Dawson Hodgson is also facing big changes with this reapportionment. Hodgson's current district comprises half of North Kingstown and most of East Greenwich.
Under only one scenario - "B" - would Hodgson continue to represent East Greenwich, and under that plan he would be representing parts of four other towns too: North Kingstown, Narragansett, South Kingstown and New Shoreham (Block Island).
Other proposals for his district - two proposals have him in District 35 and two have him in District 36 - comprise other variations and include in one case part of Exeter and in another, Jamestown and parts of Portsmouth and Middletown.
"I’m being radically redistricted, I think it’s fair to say," said Hodgson.
"Politics are only speculation," he continued. "I’m pretty sure if the Republicans had 30 votes, my district wouldn’t look like that.
"I have to take the commission process on its face and trust they are laying these districts out to reflect the people who live in them and not the politicians or political careers," said Hodgson.
He was not daunted by the prospect of re-election.
"The policies that I’ve advocated for in my 11 months as a state Senator have statewide appeal," Hodgson said. "So whatever part of Rhode Island the Democrat majority says I live in, I believe the record I’ve built for myself makes me a strong candidate. It’s just going to be a lot of work."
Reapportionment hearings continue over the next two weeks, culminating in a vote by the commission on Dec. 19 in Providence. Once approved by the commission, legislation establishing the new lines will be presented to the General Assembly in January for final adoption so that the new lines are ready in time for the November 2012 election. For more information about the redistricting process, check out the Commission's website.
All the hearings and meetings will be shown on Capitol TV, which can be seen on Channel 15 for Cox Communications and Full Channel subscribers and on Channel 34 for Verizon customers. Hearings at the State House will be televised live, while those scheduled outside the State House will be recorded and aired the following day.