Rhode Island's Redistricting News
Providence Jounal: "Town Council votes to appeal ruling on
redistricting." January 22, 2004
More Rhode Island Redistricing News (February 26-November 9, 2001)
Three East Bay towns are asking the Rhode Island Supreme Court to overturn a Superior Court ruling that upheld Senate district changes in the region.
In October, Judge Susan T. McGuirl ruled that Bristol, Tiverton and Little Compton had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that five reconfigured districts are unconstitutional.
In a closed meeting Jan. 7, the Bristol Town Council voted to appeal McGuirl's ruling.
"There were a number of issues that weren't addressed in Superior Court that need to be addressed," said council vice president David E. Barboza. "We need to try and protect the interests of our citizens."
The town filed notice with the Supreme Court last month "to preserve our right to appeal," Barboza said. "We could have withdrawn at any time."
However, after several discussions in closed session last month and this month, the council voted to go ahead with the appeal. The minutes of that meeting are sealed and Barboza would not reveal whether the vote was divided.
The appeal was filed on behalf of all the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but Bristol's decision to go ahead with it was key.
The town has paid virtually all of the $200,000 in legal fees generated since the case was filed in August 2002. Tiverton has contributed $10,000 and Little Compton has put in $2,000.
When asked about the appeal yesterday, Rep. William D. Enos, D-Tiverton, Little Compton, said he hadn't heard about Bristol's decision.
"The appeal depended on Bristol's participation," he said. "I'd definitely support. It's something that's good for the East Bay."
A former state senator, Enos testified during the week-long civil trial last May that Senate districts were redrawn to rob him of his political base in Tiverton. He has called the redistricting plan gerrymandering and has said that former Senate President William V. Irons, D-East Providence, was behind it.
In the lawsuit against the General Assembly, Bristol, Tiverton and Little Compton claimed that the redistricting was unconstitutional because "it impermissably deviate[s] from town lines and natural, historical and political boundaries."
It's especially true, they claim, in Bristol, which was divided in three and linked in districts with Portsmouth, Warren and Barrington. The second largest municipality in the East Bay, Bristol doesn't have a majority of voters in any of those districts.
Likewise, Tiverton and Little Compton don't have majorities in any Senate district.
But Judge McGuirl wasn't convinced by the plaintiffs' arguments.
In her 48-page decision, she wrote that they had "failed to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the redistricting statute is irrational and has abandoned the established principle of compactness, and is, therefore, unconstitutional."
Citing an argument made by the defense, she said the General Assembly was forced to make difficult choices because of the need to downsize and because of the irregular geography of the East Bay.
She added, "The boundaries are not insurmountable, but they reflect the concern for unwanted disturbance with the legal process."
Still, the plaintiffs are seeking to throw out the Senate map and have district lines redrawn in the East Bay.
"We've come this far," Barboza said. "We're going to continue."
The East Bay suit isn't the only one challenging the state Senate districts that were drawn to reflect new data from the 2000 Census and a voter-mandated downsizing of the legislature.
Another suit claims the redrawn districts illegally dilute black voting power in Providence. It was dismissed in U.S. District Court, but an appeal is pending in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A third suit, filed by a Hispanic coalition, claimed the new districts violated the Voting Rights Act, but it was dropped last March.
While a victory for the minority organizations who brought the complaint, the ruling does not order any changes in the state's redistricting plan.
The original lawsuit claims the redistricting created an unfair disadvantage to black voters on Providence's South Side and illegally diluted their voting power.
The lawsuit came out of the controversial legislative redistricting process, which coincided with the downsizing of the General Assembly.
The new Senate map pitted the state's first and only black senator, Charles D. Walton, against Juan M. Pichardo, who won the election to become the state's first and only Hispanic senator.
The Urban League, the Providence branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Black American Citizens Political Action Committee sued, challenging the redistricting.
In its decision, the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said the plaintiffs should have the chance to prove their case.
"In light of the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment and its guarantee of equal protection of the laws, it is no answer to say ... that the federal courts should close their doors to possibly meritorious complaints under the Voting Rights Act out of deference to majoritarian will and 'difficult' legislative choices," the court said.
The appeals court was responding to a ruling made last year by Chief U.S. District Judge Ernest C. Torres in the federal court in Providence.
Torres had dismissed the claim because the minority group could not form a numerical majority in any district and because that group would require crossover votes to elect a candidate of its choice.
In his decision, Torres said such voting-rights lawsuits can only be brought by minority groups representing more than 50 percent of a district.
He cited the U.S. Supreme Court's 1986 Thornburg v. Gingles decision, which said, "The minority group must be able to demonstrate that it is sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority."
In this case, Torres noted, the black population was falling from 26 percent, under the old Senate map, to 21 percent under the new Senate map.
In reversing Torres's decision, the appeals court cited a standard for dismissal which said a complaint can be dismissed "only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations."
Two of the three judges who heard the case found that the federal court in Providence mistakenly rejected the claim. A third judge dissented from the ruling, saying the plaintiffs have to show the minority groups are large enough and geographically compact enough to constitute a majority in some district.
The 58-page decision said the case couldn't be dismissed just because black voters do not constitute a majority in any of the state's Senate districts.
"Requiring the protected class to show that it is an absolute majority ignores the reality that the class could elect its preferred candidate without such numbers," the court said.
Earls said while the appeals court's decision sends the case back to federal court in Rhode Island, the defendants have the option of asking the Boston court to reconsider. They could also ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
Anita Earls, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said she was encouraged by the decision. "We certainly hope they will give us our day in court and let us have a trial," she said.
The lawsuit was one of three legal challenges to the new Senate map. A Hispanic group dropped their dispute in March. Then earlier this month, a Superior Court judge rejected a suit filed by the East Bay towns of Bristol, Little Compton and Tiverton that claimed the district lines drawn there were irrational and unconstitutional.
Legislative districts were redrawn last year using new census figures, at the same time the General Assembly downsized. Under the reorganization plan, the Senate was cut from 50 members to 38, and the House decreased from 100 members to 75.
PROVIDENCE -- The Hispanic coalition that has filed a redistricting lawsuit is debating whether to continue pursuing the case now that a Hispanic candidate has convincingly won a seat in the state Senate.
Melba D. Depea, president of the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee, said plaintiffs met last week but remain divided about whether to try to reach a settlement in the federal lawsuit.
Some plaintiffs think a settlement is warranted because Juan M. Pichardo received such broad support in the fall elections. They think the outcome undermines the lawsuit's arguments.
But other plaintiffs are against a settlement, saying that even though Pichardo was elected to the Senate, the district boundaries are still unfair. They think the Senate map should be redrawn in time for the 2004 elections.
"It's still not the best way of drawing the lines," Depea said. "But the judges will look at the results of the 2002 elections and say, 'You do have the ability to elect a Latino in this district.' So that's what's at the core of the debate at this time."
Pichardo, a Democrat, became the Senate's first and only Hispanic member by winning November's general election with 74.3 percent of the vote, trouncing two independent candidates and a Republican. Pichardo had won a September primary against the Senate's first and only black member, Charles D. Walton, who received 41.4 percent of the vote while Pichardo received 58.6 percent.
A coalition of Hispanic groups and individuals filed the lawsuit in July, calling some of the new Senate districts in Providence unconstitutional. The suit says mapmakers could have drawn a district in which the majority of the voting-age population is Hispanic. Instead, the Senate map "split the heart" of the Elmwood neighborhood and illegally dilutes Hispanic voting power, the suit claims.
Besides the Latino PAC, the plaintiffs include the Latino Voting Rights Committee of Rhode Island, Quisqueya In Action of Providence, the Center for Hispanic Policy and Advocacy of Providence, Progreso Latino of Central Falls, the Mexican Association of Rhode Island and others.
Depea said the coalition hopes to reach a decision by the end of this week. The decision will be based on what the majority of the coalition wants to do, she said.
A Hispanic coalition that has filed a redistricting lawsuit yesterday said it will not try to overturn new state Senate districts before this year's elections.
Rather, the group will ask federal judges to order new Providence Senate districts for the 2004 elections.
Nellie M. Gorbea, president of the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee, said plaintiffs realize time is running out, with less than six weeks remaining before the Sept. 10 primary elections. "And it has never been about this political year," she said. "It has always been about elections over the next 10 years."
Earlier this year, the General Assembly approved new legislative districts to reflect new census figures and a voter-mandated downsizing of the House and Senate. A coalition of Hispanic groups and individuals filed the suit in U.S. District Court last month, claiming the new Senate map illegally dilutes Hispanic voting power by "splitting the heart" of the Elmwood neighborhood.
Lawyers for both sides met with a three-judge panel yesterday for a scheduling conference in the judges' chambers. Afterward, Hispanic leaders said they will not attempt to delay this year's elections or request a special election.
The timing question is crucial because candidates are pounding the pavement even as a pair of redistricting lawsuits are pending in federal court. Plaintiffs in the other suit, filed by civil rights groups and black Providence residents, have suggested postponing some of the Senate primaries.
But the Hispanic plaintiffs said they are targeting the next round of elections. That stance, they said, answers critics who claim they merely want a short-term fix to assist Hispanic candidate Juan M. Pichardo, who is now in the same district as Sen. Charles D. Walton, the Senate's only black member.
"This has never been about Juan and Walton," Gorbea said. "This has been about the rights of Latinos in these neighborhoods." If the suit succeeds and Pichardo wins this year, Pichardo would have his district redrawn before the 2004 election, she noted.
"It's not about individuals," said Alan J. Rom, a Boston-based lawyer for the plaintiffs. "It's about the voting rights of the community."
During yesterday's conference, Rom said, "We made it clear we are willing to enter talks about a settlement."
Gorbea said it's too soon to say what a settlement might entail. The plaintiffs believe they have a strong case and are prepared to go the distance in court, but they also realize a lawsuit can be disruptive and would consider a practical solution if one is achievable, she said.
John A. Tarantino, an attorney representing Senate Majority Leader William V. Irons, said it would be "unreasonable" not to listen to a proposed settlement. "But that's a hard thing to respond to unless you know what it is," he said.
Tarantino said the House and Senate are seeking to intervene in the lawsuit, which now only names the secretary of state and Board of Elections chairman as defendants. "The Senate plan is being attacked, and it's the Senate and House that approved it," he said. "So we should have the opportunity to defend it. Everyone agreed that made sense."
The Senate map is not only defensible, Tarantino said, "It's a good plan." The map would create four Providence Senate districts in which the majority of residents are nonwhite, he noted, saying, "If the purpose is to get more minority representation in the Senate, this is a good plan to do that."
But Rom said the plaintiffs have shown the Senate map could have included an Elmwood-area district with a 51-percent Hispanic voting-age population. Instead, mapmakers lumped minority populations together to create "majority-minority" districts, he said.
As a result, the plaintiffs say, the map violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment. "They split the Elmwood neighborhood right down the middle, and that divided a politically cohesive community," Rom said. "Latinos ought to be able to make their own decisions and be respected."
Lawyers said that because the case involves a constitutional question, it's being handled by a three-judge panel: Chief U.S. District Judge Ernest C. Torres, District Judge A. David Mazzone and Circuit Judge Bruce M. Selya.
PROVIDENCE -- As the General Assembly scrambles to wrap up its 2002 legislative session today, many state lawmakers will be saying good-bye.
"It will be something between a graduation and an Irish wake," predicted House Majority Whip Suzanne M. Henseler, D-North Kingstown, who has decided to not seek reelection after 20 years in office. "It's bittersweet."
The Assembly is undergoing a massive shakeup thanks to the combination of redistricting and downsizing, which will cut the House from 100 to 75 members and the Senate from 50 to 38 members.
As a result, some lawmakers are retiring, switching parties and moving to new districts. Others are running for higher office. Still others are leaving for reasons unrelated to redistricting. And with elections looming, some might not have any choice about whether they come back.
Of course, there's no guarantee this year's legislative session will end today. And this bunch might be back, if only for a while, if Governor Almond vetoes the budget.
But today is bound to be a day of transition beneath the marble dome, as veteran lawmakers plan to bid farewell to colleagues and others prepare to fight for survival in the uncharted territory of new districts.
"It's a huge shakeup," said former Senate Majority Leader Paul S. Kelly, D-North Smithfield, who has decided to not seek reelection after 18 years in office. "There are a lot of unknowns."
Traditionally, about 10 percent of the Senate turns over at each election, Kelly said. But that percentage is bound to reach historic highs this year, he said, because downsizing will eliminate 25 percent of the current incumbents before a single vote is cast.
Kelly -- majority leader for eight years before being ousted by Sen. William V. Irons, D-East Providence, in 2000 -- has in the past protested that he was the target of gerrymandering. But in announcing his plans, he said redistricting was not a factor.
"At the end of the day, it was purely a business decision," Kelly said. As a vice president and senior financial adviser at Merrill Lynch, he said his choice was based on "sharply intensifying business demands."
The new Senate map pitted Kelly against a supporter, Sen. Paul W. Fogarty, D-Glocester, in a district that is just 8.8-percent North Smithfield.
Kelly said that if he was going to run again, he would have moved to the legislative district that is home to Sen. Marc A. Cote, D-Woonsocket. "If I were going to run, I'd match my legislative credentials and campaign work ethic against anyone," he said.
Instead, Kelly will join the growing list of legislators who won't be running. Sen. James M. Donelan, D-Warwick, last week announced he will not seek reelection after serving in the Senate from 1985-92 and since 1996. The new Senate map pitted him against Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey, D-Warwick.
"It is time for me to move on to other things," Donelan stated. "I know that Senator McCaffrey and Senator [John] Revens will do a great job representing the people of Warwick."
Sen. Brian M. Hunter, D-Lincoln, has announced he will not seek reelection so he can spend more time with his wife, who has been diagnosed with a rare disease called scleroderma. Sen. Robert T. Kells, D-Providence, has said he won't run because he has been appointed Lincoln police chief.
Sen. John M. Roney, D-Providence, said he is undecided about whether to run against Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence, noting the two have similar records. Perry said she plans to seek reelection.
The new Senate map has prompted two senators to change addresses.
Senate Majority Whip Thomas R. Coderre, D-Pawtucket, has moved to another part of Pawtucket -- taking him out of a district that includes Sen. John F. McBurney II, D-Pawtucket, and into a district that includes Sen. Daniel J. Issa, D-Central Falls.
"I'm not carpetbagging," Coderre said, noting his new address is within his current district. "I think I would have won in either district, but I think it would be more divisive to the city of Pawtucket if I ran against Senator McBurney."
Sen. Donna M. Walsh, D-Charlestown, said she has moved to a different part of Charlestown -- taking her out of a district that includes Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere, R-Westerly, and into a district that includes Sen. Kevin A. Breene, R-West Greenwich.
Walsh said she already represents 61 percent of the new district, including Richmond and Hopkinton. And, she said, "I feel that I can adequately represent Exeter and West Greenwich because they're rural communities with regional school districts and similar growth problems."
Sen. William Enos, D-Tiverton, former majority whip under Kelly, had considered moving, but last week said he decided against it for his family's sake. He said he might run for a House seat or Senate seat.
In the House, Majority Leader Gerard M. Martineau, D-Woonsocket, publicly is maintaining that he hasn't made up his mind about whether to return next year. But he is reportedly telling people privately he will not seek reelection.
Henseler, who holds the number-three leadership post in the House, said she is stepping down because, "I thought it was a good time with redistricting and downsizing. It kind of flowed into what my plans were."
Still, Henseler said she is concerned the proportion of women in the General Assembly will drop next year. "Many women reps are not running, and many are running against incumbents," she said.
Rep. William D. Vieira Sr., D-Pawtucket, said he is not running for reelection because of redistricting and personal reasons. The four-year incumbent had considered running as an independent against Rep. John D. Barr II, D-Lincoln, in a district that is 77.5-percent Lincoln. "I feel pretty confident I could win," he said. "But it's not the right time to engage in what would be a very difficult race."
Rep. Paul V. Sherlock, D-Warwick, had said he would not seek reelection after 24 years in office. But in February he said he was reconsidering, and yesterday he said he's definitely running. "I'm going to be active either professionally or politically," he said, "and I've chosen to be active politically."
That could set Sherlock up for a contest with Rep. H. Norman Knickle, D-Warwick, who said, "My plans today are that I'm running." He said he plans to make a final decision in the next two to three weeks. The third incumbent in that Warwick district, Rep. Denise C. Aiken, chairwoman of the redistricting commission, has said she won't seek reelection.
Rep. Charles J. Levesque, D-Portsmouth, has moved to another part of Portsmouth -- taking him out of a district that contains Rep. Joseph N. Amaral, R-Tiverton, and into a district that includes Rep. Joan B. Quick, R-Little Compton.
Rep. Mary Ann F. Carroll, of Glocester, left the Democratic Party earlier this year and last week said she will probably run as an independent against Deputy House Speaker Thomas Winfield, D-Smithfield, in a district that is 84.5-percent Smithfield. "I'm running as the Independent Woman," she said.
Rep. William H. Murphy, of Jamestown, jumped from the GOP to the Democratic Party and will face Rep. Bruce J. Long, R-Middletown.
Former House Finance Chairman Antonio J. Pires, D-Pawtucket, is running for governor, and Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-Providence, is running for mayor. Others who have said they are not seeking reelection include Rep. Scott P. Rabideau, R-Burrillville; Rep. John J. Thompson, D-Westerly; Rep. Brock D. Bierman, R-Cranston; and Rep. Mabel M. Anderson, D-Pawtucket.
The Providence Journal
PROVIDENCE -- A redistricting lawsuit filed yesterday charges that the new map of state Senate districts is unfair to black voters in Providence and seeks to halt Senate elections until new districts are drawn.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed the suit on behalf of seven plaintiffs, saying new Senate districts dilute black voting power in South Providence and violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The suit asks U.S. District Court to halt any Senate elections until the map is redrawn to comply with that law. The map is the basis for the primary elections scheduled for September and the general elections scheduled for November.
The suit represents the first legal challenge to a redistricting plan that reflects both new census figures and a voter-mandated downsizing of the House from 100 to 75 members and the Senate from 50 to 38 members. The suit would have no effect on the House.
"The plaintiffs in this case are challenging this plan because it divides voters and prevents them from electing a candidate of their choice," stated Anita S. Hodgkiss, voting rights project director for the Washington-based Lawyers' Committee.
"The effect is simple," Hodgkiss said. "It undermines African-American voting strength and participation. This is not an isolated case. We are seeing this in a variety of places throughout the country as state-elected officials engage in redistricting efforts."
The plaintiffs are four black residents of South Providence -- former state Rep. Harold M. Metts, Jean Wiggins, Bryan Evans and Stephanie Cruz -- in addition to the Urban League of Rhode Island, the Providence branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Black American Citizens Political Action Committee.
The suit zeros in on changes made to the area now represented by Sen. Charles D. Walton, the state's only black senator. Walton's current district is 25.7 percent black, while the new Senate district for that area is 21.4 percent black, according to court documents.
"The reduction in the percentage of African-Americans in what was Senate District 9 has the effect of denying black voters an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the Senate," the suit states.
"The white and Hispanic communities vote sufficiently in a bloc usually to defeat the candidate of choice of African-American voters when that candidate is African-American and the district is less than 26 percent black in total population," the suit states. "[The map] dilutes the voting strength of black voters by unnecessarily dividing those voters among several districts."
Metts, the lead plaintiff, said the Senate map splits South Providence, leaving his house in Upper South Providence in a district that includes Federal Hill and the Armory District. The district thereby fails to respect "communities of interest," meaning the groupings of people that should be kept whole, he said.
"The effect of this new plan will have ramifications for minorities in Providence for the next 10 years," Metts said. "Now is the time to correct this problem and give all voters an equal chance."
The Urban League's Tish DiPrete noted many people came before the redistricting commission and legislature to protest the Senate map. "If they took the suggestions of the public, we wouldn't have had to file this suit on behalf of the citizens," she said.
Walton, D-Providence, hailed the lawsuit, saying, "This puts the issue before a legal body to decide as opposed to a subjective political body."
Walton called the Senate map "the most blatant example of racial gerrymandering that I've seen" and "a slap in the face to every minority citizen in this state."
Senate Majority Leader William V. Irons said he did not want to comment on the details of the suit until he reviews it with the state's redistricting experts and attorneys. "We look forward to the court process and defending the work of the redistricting commission and legislature," he said.
But Irons, D-East Providence, said he was "tremendously disappointed" in Walton's comments, saying, "In his heart of hearts he knows that's an exaggeration of what the court suit says."
Hispanic groups also plan to sue over the Senate map. And a news release from the Lawyers' Committee quoted Nellie M. Gorbea, president of the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee, as saying: "We welcome the filing of this lawsuit by the African-American community. Their filing [yesterday] is encouraging for all of us who have labored to make sure that the voting rights of the people of South Providence are protected and adequately addressed."
The Providence Journal
PROVIDENCE -- A national group of civil-rights lawyers plans to file a redistricting lawsuit as soon as today, charging that the new map of Senate districts illegally dilutes black voting power in South Providence.
Attention has focused on when Latino groups will sue over the Senate map, which reflects both new census figures and a voter mandate to shrink the Senate from 50 to 38 members.
But the first suit now appears likely to come from the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a private nonpartisan organization formed in 1963 at President John F. Kennedy's request to address racial discrimination.
Anita S. Hodgkiss, director of the committee's voting rights project, yesterday said she hopes to have the lawsuit filed today in federal court in Providence.
Hodgkiss said the lawsuit will be filed on behalf of seven plaintiffs, including the Providence branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League of Rhode Island, and former state Rep. Harold M. Metts, a South Providence resident and chairman of the Reapportionment Equal Opportunity Committee.
The suit will allege that the Senate map violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Hodgkiss said.
"It unnecessarily dilutes the voting strength of black voters when it is possible to draw a map that doesn't do that," Hodgkiss said. "We are not alleging discriminatory intent. We are just saying the impact of the districts -- for whatever reason they put them there -- has the effect of denying black voters an equal opportunity."
In response, Senate Majority Leader William V. Irons, D-East Providence, said, "People of honest intent and sincere motives can disagree. Obviously, I disagree with their interpretation. We will defend the map vigorously."
Nellie M. Gorbea, president of the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee, said Hispanic groups plan to file a suit alleging the Senate map illegally dilutes Hispanic voting power in Providence. She said Hispanic organizations have been meeting with African-American groups about the Senate redistricting plan. "We probably have different arguments," she said, "but the solution for each could be complementary."
Hodgkiss said, "I know it is important to my clients to work cooperatively with the Latino community to achieve an outcome that's fair to everyone. Our beef is not with them."
As the state Senate's Democratic majority whip, it is Thomas R. Coderre's job to line up votes for important bills.
But when it came to the redistricting bill, arguably the most important piece of legislation the Senate will consider this year, Coderre voted "no."
Coderre, D-Pawtucket, cast his vote last month without explanation, but in a recent interview he said he voted against the new Senate map because Pawtucket is likely to wind up with just one senator who lives in the city.
"This may be my last year here, and I didn't want to walk away knowing I'd done a disservice to the city I love," Coderre said. "So I broke the institutional tradition of the whip never being at odds with the leadership."
Some senators suggest Coderre is getting a raw deal from a Senate leadership team that he helped to build. Coderre, who had been deputy whip under former Senate Majority Leader Paul S. Kelly, helped topple Kelly in 2000 by switching his allegiance to current Senate Majority Leader William V. Irons.
Now, under the new Senate map, Coderre is facing a difficult matchup against "the dean of the Senate," Sen. John F. McBurney III, a fellow Pawtucket Democrat who has served more consecutive years than any other senator.
Why is Coderre in such a precarious situation?
Senate leaders say the downsizing of the General Assembly is to blame. "It isn't a sinister motive," Irons said. "It is a reality of downsizing that what would be traditional political outcomes can't be accomplished in downsizing."
But former Senate leaders contend it's more a matter of politics and betrayal.
"It does look like he was used," said Kelly, D-North Smithfield. "He gave his word to one camp, he betrayed that word and he got the whip position. At the end of the day, it appeared neither side trusted him. And if that's the case, that's not what a majority leader needs in a whip."
"I'm quite surprised the leadership would abandon their number-two guy," said Sen. William Enos, D-Tiverton, who was Kelly's whip. "But that's nothing new for that building," he said of the State House. "I've seen many people chewed up and spit out -- used and abused."
Irons rejected the notion that Coderre is not trusted or is being abandoned. To follow that logic, he said, would be to suggest that he is also abandoning two other members of his leadership team -- Sen. Catherine E. Graziano and Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, committee chairwomen who are pitted against each other in a new Providence district. And that's clearly not the case, he said.
"The truth of the matter is that with downsizing, you are going to have contests," Irons said. "[Coderre] is disappointed in the outcome, but so are Senators Graziano, Goodwin, Walsh, Cicilline, Roney and Perry. I understand and appreciate their disappointment."
Rhode Island is redrawing its legislative districts to reflect new census figures and a 1994 voter mandate to downsize the House from 100 to 75 members and the Senate from 50 to 38 members.
Coderre also rejected Kelly's contentions, saying he concurs with what Sen. Joseph A. Montalbano, vice chairman of the Redistricting Commission, has said repeatedly: "The devil is in the downsizing."
A lot of incumbent senators live close together in that area of the state, Coderre said, so "somebody had to run against somebody."
But why him? "Because I had the least amount of seniority," said Coderre, whose eight-year tenure is shorter than that of Irons, Montalbano and McBurney.
Coderre said his "no" vote shows he can be independent when he needs to be and that Irons allows such independence.
"When you feel you have done all you can to support a particular leadership team, and the rug is pulled out from under you, and you are left standing there with a black eye, sure, it hurts," Coderre said. "But when you take away the emotions and look at it intellectually, you realize it wasn't personal. Someone had to be hurt, and it just happened to be me."
He said he voted against the Senate map because Pawtucket, with a population of 73,000, is likely to wind up with just one resident senator next year -- either him or McBurney. By comparison, he said, East Providence, with a population of 49,000, could end up with three senators within its borders.
The map puts other parts of Pawtucket in districts that include Irons, who lives in East Providence; Montalbano, who lives in North Providence; and Sen. Daniel J. Issa, who lives in Central Falls. "They are great representatives," Coderre said. "I'm comfortable as long as they're here, but we can't guarantee they'll be elected in the future."
Irons said whoever succeeds him and Montalbano in those districts will probably be from Pawtucket, giving the city three senators. In the meantime, he said, he and Montalbano have represented parts of the city for years and can continue serving Pawtucket well. Under the new map, Pawtucket will constitute about 95 percent of Irons's district, up from the current 70 percent.
"I consider myself an honorary resident of Pawtucket," Irons said. "Joe would say the same, and most importantly, I think the citizens feel the same way."
Coderre said he doesn't know if he will run for reelection, but he plans to decide within a month. Kelly said, "If Coderre decides he wants to mount a campaign, then McBurney will have a race on his hands. Tom Coderre is one of the best campaigners in the Senate."
Coderre raised another intriguing possibility -- that he could move to another part of Pawtucket and run against Irons. He said his current district makes up about 60 percent of Irons's new district.
So how are Coderre and Irons getting along?
Irons, 58, said he and Coderre have a "very cordial" relationship. "Tom Coderre is like a son to me," he said. "We've represented Pawtucket together for many years." And before that, he said, Coderre helped coordinate his campaign for Senate.
Coderre, 32, said he has been friends with Irons for 20 years. "I'm not the closest person in the inner circle," he said. "He relies on Montalbano more than anyone else. He views me as a son as opposed to a peer. When you come up here as a young person, that's what can happen to you."
Kelly said Coderre did not seem to function as majority whip last session. "It appeared Irons did the whipping himself," he said. Irons said Coderre did handle whip duties but there wasn't much need last session because it "was probably the most collegial year in my 20 years in the Senate."
Coderre said he asked McBurney to help him fight the redistricting bill but McBurney's reply was: "The train has left the station." Coderre said he told McBurney, "Jack, we need to jump in front of the train."
But Coderre didn't have much company when he made the leap. On Feb. 7, the Senate voted 39 to 9 for the Senate redistricting plan, with McBurney voting "yes."
McBurney said, "I'm disappointed to be in a matchup, but it's inevitable with downsizing to have matchups." He blamed others such as Common Cause of Rhode Island's H. Philip West Jr. for supporting downsizing, borrowing a Laurel and Hardy phrase: "Another fine mess you've gotten us into, Phil West."
McBurney, 51, a senator for 28 years, said he is running for reelection. He said the new district includes areas that he now represents, such as Woodlawn, but also contains areas that Coderre now represents, such as Quality Hill, and areas that neither of them represent, such as Oak Hill.
"I don't take him lightly," McBurney said of Coderre. "He's been a good senator. But only one of us can win."
Foes of the downsizing/redistricting plan recently approved by the General Assembly saw their last faint glimmer of hope to stop the bill dissolve at midnight when Gov. Lincoln Almond allowed it to become law without his signature.
A spokesperson for an Hispanic political group says they will now go to the courts to prevent the law from being implemented.
Almond said he believes that objections to the proposal from minority groups and others have merit, but he did not veto the legislation.
"I view my participation in this process as limited to vetoing any clearly unconstitutional reapportionment," the governor said in a message to House Speaker John B. Harwood of Pawtucket.
"I have heard from groups objecting to the manner in which redistricting was accomplished in the Senate, including minority groups and East Bay Senators. While their concerns are not without merit, in my view the bill is not clearly unconstitutional. In light of these objections, however, I decline to sign this bill into law."
But the governor seemed happy with a bill that reduces the size of the House of Representatives from 100 members to 75 and the Senate from 50 members to 38, as directed by a 1994 constitutional amendment.
"I am pleased that the downsizing of the General Assembly is now complete," Almond said. "The downsizing of the General Assembly demonstrates that the voice of the citizens of Rhode Island will be heard and their mandate followed."
Nellie Gorbea, president of the R.I. Latino Political Action Committee, said she was "disappointed" to hear of Almond's action. "A veto would have been a much more meaningful act," she said. "It could have saved the state the cost of unnecessary litigation."
Asked if that meant that the group intends to challenge the plan in court, Gorbea said, "we have always been looking at that as a worst-case scenario. Now we are left with no other option."
Throughout the Redistricting Commission's extensive public hearing process, Hispanic speakers decried what they considered the diluting of Hispanic political power in South Providence by lumping them together with blacks, Asians and other minorities. Gorbea said the group may work with Sen. Charles D. Walton of Providence and other groups dissatisfied with the redistricting plan as it begins to mount a court fight.
A veto, Gorbea said, would have given dissidents more time to work with the legislature to change some of the lines before the matter went as far as a lawsuit.
Governor Almond yesterday allowed the redistricting bill to become law without his signature, choosing to neither veto nor sign legislation that will downsize the General Assembly by 25 percent.
Redistricting is basically a General Assembly function, Almond said, so a governor should only veto a redistricting bill if it's clearly unconstitutional.
"I have heard from groups objecting to the manner in which redistricting was accomplished in the Senate, including minority groups and East Bay senators," Almond wrote in a letter explaining his decision. "While their concerns are not without merit, in my view, the bill is not clearly unconstitutional."
"In light of these objections, however, I decline to sign this bill into law," he wrote. "Accordingly, I will allow the bill to become law without my signature."
The Republican governor's decision elicited a blistering response from Senate Majority Leader William V. Irons, D-East Providence.
"The last paragraph of the letter describes Lincoln Almond's style of leadership -- you can't figure out what he stands for," Irons said. "This is probably one of the most significant pieces of legislation in his eight years in office, but he hasn't taken a position. It's embarrassing."
If criticisms of the Senate map had merit, Almond should have vetoed the bill, Irons said, and if those criticisms didn't warrant a veto, he should have signed it. "Governors are supposed to lead, not muddle," he said. "His comments are useless to everybody."
Irons said he and Sen. Joseph A. Montalbano, vice chairman of the Redistricting Commission, spent months working on the redistricting plan "to make sure it was done right." Yet his sense is that the governor's office "spent minutes on it" and read just four letters from groups urging a veto.
Almond spokeswoman Lisa A. Pelosi said the governor's office thoroughly reviewed the bill as it progressed through the General Assembly and after it came to the governor's desk, in addition to meeting with opponents of the plan. She quoted Almond as saying, "The transmittal letter speaks for itself. We regret the fact that the Senate majority leader is obviously very edgy about this issue."
The governor's decision comes as several groups are considering challenging the Senate redistricting plan in court.
Yesterday morning, the Bristol Town Council agreed to provide up to $10,000 to join a lawsuit challenging the Senate map, provided other plaintiffs raise at least $50,000. The map would split Bristol into three Senate districts, and the town wouldn't constitute the majority of any of those districts. "There is a challenge brewing, and Bristol has voted to be a part of that challenge," Town Administrator Joseph F. Parella said.
But critics of the Senate plan also expressed disappointment with Almond's decision.
"We thought a veto would have been a much more meaningful action," said Nellie M. Gorbea, president of the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee. "It would have provided additional negotiating time to avoid a legal challenge."
The Latino PAC has been working with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, based in New York City, and is likely to sue over the Senate map, Gorbea said.
The Latino PAC has criticized Senate plans for the South Side of Providence, noting 30 percent of the city is now Hispanic and calling for creation of a majority-Hispanic district. "We should have at least one senatorial district where the Latino population can decide who they want for their senator," Gorbea said.
Sen. Charles D. Walton, the state's only black senator, said he has been talking to a variety of groups and senators about a legal challenge -- including the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund and the Lawyers' Committee on Civil Rights Under Law.
Walton, D-Providence, said Almond's letter offers a "sliver of support" for objections to South Side and East Bay Senate districts. "But I'd have liked him to have stood up strongly on this issue and veto a bill with serious ramifications for racial gerrymandering and with East Bay communities that have been emasculated by the meat-ax approach taken by the drawing of these Senate lines," he said.
Walton said Senate leaders are trying to punish him for supporting a Hispanic candidate, Juan M. Pichardo, who nearly beat Sen. Robert T. Kells, D-Providence, in the 2000 elections. The map puts Walton and Pichardo in the same district.
Montalbano, D-North Providence, denied that Senate leaders are trying to punish Walton, noting Walton is in a district with no other incumbents. He said the Latino PAC's proposal would have pitted more Providence incumbents against each other while leaving Pichardo, a nonincumbent, in a district with no other incumbent. "They don't say it, but they want us to create a district just for Pichardo," he said, and that's not "practical" during downsizing.
As for the governor's decision, Montalbano that if Almond thought the bill was constitutional, he should have signed it. Taxpayers will have to pay to defend the redistricting plan in court, he said, and the governor didn't help that defense by withholding his signature. But Almond didn't hurt the defense, either, he said.
"What he really did was turn himself into Switzerland," Montalbano said. "I feel strongly that we did our job and the bill will pass constitutional scrutiny. But I would have liked to have seen him lend his support to taxpayers in the process that is about to unfold."
The governor's decision culminates a process that is recasting General Assembly districts to reflect new census figures and a 1994 voter mandate to downsize the House from 100 to 75 members and the Senate from 50 to 38 members.
"I am pleased that the downsizing of the General Assembly is now complete," Almond wrote. "Downsizing was one component of a significant government reform package in the early 1990s that included merit selection of judges, the establishment of four-year terms for Rhode Island's general officers and campaign finance reform. The downsizing of the General Assembly demonstrates that the voice of the citizens of Rhode Island will be heard and their mandated followed."
The Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee is calling on Governor Almond to veto the redistricting bill that the General Assembly sent him last week.
The group's president, Nellie M. Gorbea , sent Almond a letter, objecting to the proposed Senate districts in Providence. "The districts as drafted clearly violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by effectively diluting Latino voting power," she wrote. "We cannot in good conscience allow new districts to be put in place that are in violation of federal law."
The state could avoid a legal challenge with simple changes that the group provided to the redistricting commission, the letter stated.
"Your veto will send a clear signal to Rhode Island's Latino as well as other minority communities that you will uphold the laws of our country," Gorbea wrote. "This action will be instrumental in defining your administration as one that seeks to represent all Rhode Islanders, not just those who have current access to political representation."
Senate leaders have defended the redistricting plan, noting it maintains five majority-nonwhite Senate districts in the state.
Almond spokeswoman Lisa A. Pelosi said the governor's office was still reviewing the legislation on Friday. The governor must sign or veto the bill by Tuesday night or it will become law without his signature, she said. The letter from Gorbea is the only correspondence Almond has received about the redistricting bill, she said.
The redistricting bill that will eliminate one out of every four General Assembly seats headed to Governor Almond's desk following a final Senate debate and vote yesterday.
Last week, the Senate and House each passed redistricting bills that were identical except for the numbering of House districts. Legislative leaders decided to send the House bill to the governor. And the Senate voted 35 to 7 for that version yesterday after rejecting three proposed amendments.
Sen. William Enos, D-Tiverton, lashed out at the Senate redistricting plan, saying it did "what was best for the current leadership of the Senate but not for the people of Rhode Island." He said, "We should all walk out of this building today with our heads hung low."
Senate Majority Leader William V. Irons, D-East Providence, disagreed, saying the plan "served the people of the state of Rhode Island well." He said, "I believe we can hold our heads very high on this very historic moment."
Rhode Island is recasting legislative districts to reflect new census figures as well as a 1994 voter mandate to downsize the Senate from 50 to 38 members and the House from 100 to 75 members.
Sen. J. Clement Cicilline, D-Newport, decried the decision to shrink the legislature, rejecting arguments that downsizing will make elections in future years more competitive and that the General Assembly will be more efficient. "Downsizing is an abomination of representative government," he said. "I believe it will have an adverse effect on minorities, the poor, women and on smaller communities. In general, it's bad for the state of Rhode Island."
Cicilline proposed changing the East Bay Senate map, saying the current plan will split up "communities of interest," including minority populations. But his amendment failed in vote of 34 to 7.
Sen. Charles D. Walton, D-Providence, the Senate's lone black member, charged that the Senate map dilutes minority voting strength in his city, saying he believes the plan violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He proposed changing South Side districts, but his amendment failed in a vote of 36 to 6.
Sen. Mary A. Parella, R-Bristol, proposed changing the East Bay Senate map, but her amendment failed in a vote of 30 to 10. Parella said the Senate plan applies standards inconsistently in splitting her town into three districts. "It's the talk of the town," she said. "It is a very serious issue in our community. In fact, the Town Council is meeting to see where to go from here."
Irons said he believes the redistricting plan will withstand any legal challenges. "I think a lawsuit would be an exercise in futility and an expensive proposition," he said.
Almond spokeswoman Lisa A. Pelosi said the governor's office will begin reviewing the redistricting bill today. The Republican governor could sign the bill, let it become law without his signature or veto it. "I have had no indication that the governor plans to veto it, or that there is any reason to veto it," Pelosi said. "We are looking at this as a legislative issue, but we will treat it like any other bill that comes to the governor's desk."
After a passionate and sometimes caustic debate, the Senate voted yesterday for a redistricting bill that will slash the size of the General Assembly by 25 percent.
Critics lashed out at the plan, saying it would dilute minority voting strength in Providence and carve up East Bay communities. Senate leaders defended the plan, saying they tried to address minority concerns and that some people were bound to be unhappy because of downsizing.
Rhode Island is recasting its political maps to reflect both new census figures and a 1994 voter mandate to reduce the House from 100 to 75 members and the Senate from 50 to 38 members.
Yesterday's approval came in two separate votes. At Sen. Mary A. Parella's request, the Senate plan was separated from the House and congressional maps, which passed in a vote of 45 to 3. The Senate plan then passed in a vote of 39 to 9.
The Senate vote came one day after the House approved a redistricting bill by a vote of 85 to 9. The Senate and House bills are identical except for the numbering of the districts. Legislative leaders say the House bill will be the one forwarded to the governor after the Senate votes on it next week.
Sen. William Enos, D-Tiverton, launched a pointed attack on the Senate redistricting plan, which pits him against a Middletown Republican in a district that is 61-percent Middletown, 14-percent Tiverton, 13-percent Little Compton and 12-percent Newport.
"Gerrymandering is bad, but 'Billy-mandering' makes Gerry's plan look good," Enos said, referring to Senate Majority Leader William V. Irons.
Enos charged that neighboring Tiverton and Little Compton are being split into different Senate districts because he was majority whip under former Senate Majority Leader Paul S. Kelly, who was ousted by Irons.
"Hear me, Senator Irons," Enos said. "You're a proud man, I know you are, Billy. Don't leave your legacy this way -- that you decimated Newport County."
Enos questioned Sen. Joseph A. Montalbano, vice chairman of the redistricting commission, about the "communities of interest" between Little Compton, Tiverton, Middletown and Newport. Montalbano replied that Little Compton children attended Middletown schools for years, and they're all ocean communities. Enos said Little Compton children no longer go to Middletown schools and asked other senators to answer his question. "No takers, huh?" Enos said.
Irons objected, saying, "I wish Senator Enos would stop haranguing other senators. It is totally out of the decorum of this chamber."
Later, Irons said, "I'm not surprised some invective flies." Downsizing is an emotional issue, he said, and senators such as Enos, who has been in the Senate 15 years, want to continue serving their communities.
But Irons, D-East Providence, said there was no way to make everyone happy while eliminating 12 Senate districts. Each change in the Senate map affected other districts, he said, comparing the process to a Rubik's Cube.
"The devil is in the downsizing," Montalbano, D-North Providence, said at several points.
Enos proposed an amendment that would recast the East Bay Senate map, keeping Tiverton and Little Compton in one district and leaving him with no incumbent opponent. The amendment failed in a vote of 36 to 9.
The Senate's lone black member, Sen. Charles D. Walton, D-Providence, criticized the Senate map, saying it packs far too many minorities into his South Side district, thereby undermining the chances for having another minority senator elected in the fall.
"When I tell people I was the first person of color elected to the Senate, they look at me with glaring eyes," said Walton, who was first elected in 1983. "After all this time, to only have one minority district -- shame on us for not having the vision to be more inclusive."
Walton proposed four amendments, which he said would create two South Side districts where he said minorities could "realistically" be elected.
After the session, Walton said the Senate map is intended to protect two white incumbents -- Senate Finance Chairman Frank T. Caprio and Sen. David V. Igliozzi. He said the plan fails to reflect the growth of the minority community in Providence, which saw its Hispanic population double in the 1990s.
Montalbano noted the Senate plan maintains five majority-nonwhite districts despite downsizing. "Our foremost concern was to respect minority voting rights," he said. "To suggest we either ignored or disrespected minority voting rights is disingenuous at best, ladies and gentlemen."
Montalbano noted the Senate plan was praised for its impact on minority communities in Central Falls and Pawtucket, and he said the commission followed Common Cause of Rhode Island's request to keep Providence districts entirely within the city to avoid diluting minority districts.
"This plan should facilitate the political participation of minorities," Montalbano said. "In two, four, ten years from now, if the population trends continue, these [Providence] districts will be very good targets for minority voting strength."
Walton rejected the idea that minorities should wait for good things to happen in the future, citing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s book, Why We Can't Wait .
Montalbano opposed Walton's amendments, saying they would divide numerous city neighborhoods and would not create a district that has a majority of Hispanics of voting age. Irons said, "There is no need for shame because sincerity was the hallmark of the effort by the redistricting commission."
Walton's amendments failed in votes of 38 to 7, 39 to 7, 40 to 6, and 41 to 7.
Parella, R-Bristol, objected to the redistricting plan, noting it would divide her town into three Senate districts. Her proposed amendment to East Bay districts failed in a vote of 34 to 11.
Sen J. Clement Cicilline, D-Newport, called for a halt to downsizing, acknowledging he might be "tilting at windmills." His proposed amendment to East Bay districts failed in a vote of 38 to 8.
Sen. James C. Sheehan, D-North Kingstown, was the only senator in attendance who did not cast a vote on the redistricting plan. After the session, Sheehan said he was torn because many of his constituents object to the redistricting plan, but Senate leaders had agreed to change the map in a way that benefited him and put all the town's coastal neighborhoods in one district.
Voting 85 to 9 following a contentious debate, the state House of Representatives yesterday approved a redistricting bill that will eliminate one-quarter of the General Assembly.
The Senate is expected to pass the same legislation today, setting the stage for a dramatic, historic shakeup, giving every legislator new district boundaries and turning friends into political foes.
Redistricting is taking place in all 50 states this year to reflect new census figures, but only Rhode Island is reducing the size of its legislature at the same time. The downsizing results from a 1994 constitutional amendment, which provided legislators with pay raises but required shrinking the House from 100 to 75 members and the Senate from 50 to 38 members.
House Majority Leader Gerard M. Martineau, D-Woonsocket, praised the redistricting plans yesterday, calling the process "fair and evenhanded."
But others disagreed. "What this plan has demonstrated is that some people, some communities, are more equal than others," said Rep. Mary Ann F. Carroll, D-Glocester. "Some have had their districts custom-tailored while others have been made sacrificial lambs."
Carroll said her district was "carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey." The plan pits her against Deputy Speaker Thomas Winfield, D-Smithfield, in a district that is 84.5-percent Smithfield and 15.5-percent Glocester.
Carroll also warned that the plan could make women "an endangered species" in the General Assembly although they make up 52 percent of the state's population. Under the plan, female incumbents are more likely than their male colleagues to end up in districts where they would face other incumbents in the fall elections.
Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-Providence, expected to run for mayor this year, voted against the plan because it would reduce the number of legislators representing a part of Providence from 17 to 13. "This diminishes our voice tremendously," he said.
A pair of Bristol Democrats -- Rep. Fausto C. Anguilla and Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr. -- voted against the plan because it would carve Bristol into three Senate districts.
The vote followed three failed attempts to amend the bill. Rep. Charles J. Levesque, D-Portsmouth, led the charge, saying the bill "reeks of self-interest," is zooming through the legislature "with track shoes" and would split his town into four districts.
The plan pits Levesque against Rep. Joseph N. Amaral, R-Tiverton, in a district that is 77-percent Tiverton and 23-percent Portsmouth. But Levesque said he has signed a lease and plans to move to another area of Portsmouth, where he would be matched up against Rep. Joan B. Quick, R-Little Compton, in a district that is 38-percent Portsmouth and 26-percent Little Compton.
Still, Levesque said the plan is unfair to Portsmouth. "My community should not be a victim of patronage," he said, proposing a new configuration for Portsmouth districts.
House Minority Leader Robert A. Watson, R-East Greenwich, said every representative suffered "some level of agita" from the redistricting plan. But he refused to back Levesque's amendment, saying Portsmouth could benefit from having four representatives advocating for the town next year. Levesque's amendment failed in a vote of 75 to 10.
Rep. William H. Murphy, R-Jamestown, tried to shift a Middletown neighborhood from the district that includes his house to a district that includes the home of Rep. Maxine Shavers, D-Newport. Murphy said his proposal would "consolidate a neighborhood" that would otherwise be divided by the redistricting plan.
But Rep. Bruce J. Long, R-Middletown, who would be pitted against Murphy in the new district, contended that "what Representative Murphy suggests is not about helping the people of Middletown, it's about helping Representative Murphy."
Under the current plan, the Long/Murphy district would be 61-percent Middletown and 39-percent Jamestown, and Long said Murphy was trying to whittle down the Middletown percentage. "My message to Representative Murphy is 'Shame on you,' " Long said.
That prompted Rep. John D. Barr II, D-Lincoln, to object, citing a House rule against berating another representative. House Speaker John B. Harwood sustained the objection. Murphy's amendment failed in a vote of 81 to 8.
Rep. Nancy C. Hetherington, D-Cranston, asked the House to reverse a last-minute change that pits her against Rep. Joseph M. McNamara, D-Warwick, in a district that is 89-percent Warwick.
The change was made, Hetherington noted, because the redistricting commission wanted to avoid putting three female incumbents in another district. But now one of the those women, Rep. Beatrice A. Lanzi, D-Cranston, plans to run for state Senate, so the problem no longer exists, she said.
But the redistricting commission chairwoman, Rep. Denise C. Aiken, D-Warwick, opposed Hetherington's idea, saying it would have a "ripple effect" on other districts. Also, she noted the plan has already passed the Judiciary Committee, saying, "You are trying to stop an ocean liner on a dime." Hetherington's amendment failed in a vote of 64 to 23.
The House did approve an amendment that would change the numbering of House districts so that District 1 is in Providence rather than in West Warwick.
Rep. Paul E. Moura, D-Providence, the senior deputy majority leader, said House district numbers have traditionally begun at the State House in Providence and fanned out from there, ending in Newport. Moura would have been in District 33 under the proposed plan, but the amendment restores him to District 2.
Governor Almond will review the bill after the Senate vote and then decide whether to sign it, a spokeswoman said.
The redistricting bills that will downsize the House and Senate were introduced in both chambers yesterday, and hearings were quickly scheduled for later this week.
The 91-page documents -- which are a dry recitation of the roads, rivers and census blocks that make up the boundaries of the new legislative districts -- represent a thorough reorganization of Rhode Island's political world. The new districts reflect both new census figures and a voter-mandated reduction of the House from 100 to 75 members and the Senate from 50 to 38 members.
A hearing before the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled for 6 p.m. tomorrow in State House Room 313. And a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday in Room 313.
Senate Majority Leader William V. Irons, D-East Providence, said he sees no need to change the proposed maps in committee. He noted the state redistricting commission held 22 public meetings, and he said, "Input came from far and wide."
"As far as I'm concerned, the plan is done," Irons said. "I don't believe any changes need to be made, but that's up to the Judiciary Committee."
He noted the Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Joseph A. Montalbano, D-North Providence, and Sen. Catherine E. Graziano, D-Providence, served on the redistricting commission that recommended the proposed maps, but he also noted that the committee includes senators who have objected to the map, such as Sen. Mary A. Parella, R-Bristol, and Sen. Charles D. Walton, D-Providence.
"It will be a lively hearing," Irons predicted.
Indeed, Parella said she plans to continue fighting plans that would carve Bristol into three Senate districts. She and other local officials argue that at least one district should be mostly in Bristol.
Parella noted the redistricting commission changed the proposed House map last week so that East Providence City Hall would not be in a predominantly Providence district. She said she has made the same argument regarding Bristol, which would see its City Hall placed in a predominantly Portsmouth district. "I think they opened up a can of worms," she said.
Also, Parella said legislative leaders are moving too quickly on the redistricting bills. "To have a hearing in the same week the bill is introduced does an injustice to the process," she said. "It's legal, but it doesn't give average citizens an opportunity to get prepared and to make arrangements to be there."
The state redistricting commission is being called back into action tonight to vote on changes to the House and Senate maps that the commission is recommending to the General Assembly.
Legislators had expected redistricting bills to be introduced in both chambers yesterday. Instead, a redistricting commission meeting was announced for 6 p.m. today at the State House.
The meeting, which comes on a Friday night six weeks after the commission unanimously approved redistricting plans, raised suspicions. "When things come out at the last minute, those are the things we really need to pay close attention to," said Rep. Charlene M. Lima, D-Cranston.
Most of the proposed changes are minor "technical amendments" that would, for example, eliminate "pockets" requiring polling sites for tiny areas, said Kimball W. Brace, the state's redistricting consultant. "It's better to have a clean bill going to the legislature," he said.
But three of the changes would push East Providence, West Warwick and North Kingstown neighborhoods into different districts. And the East Providence amendment would change an expected matchup in the fall elections by pitting Rep. Brian G. Coogan against Rep. Raymond C. Coelho rather than Rep. Paul E. Moura.
Coogan, D-East Providence, said he did not request the change but did tell Moura, D-Providence, that he objected to putting East Providence City Hall in a predominantly Providence district. The change would push the district border north from Route 195 to Route 44, leaving City Hall in an all-East Providence district.
"Being a junior guy up here, I don't have any say in anything," Coogan said. "I told the Speaker, 'If you have to cut up my district, cut it up.' He looked at me like I was crazy."
Coogan, who is in his first term, said, "I don't care who I run against. It's not that I'm cocky. I'm a hard worker. I told Moura I'd take the 40 percent East Providence and 60 percent Providence and come over and get 11 percent of Providence and win."
Moura dismissed the idea that he pushed for the change to avoid running against another incumbent. "If I had that much influence over the process, I wouldn't have had an opponent in the first place," he said.
As an 18-year veteran and senior deputy majority leader, Moura said he would have been the favorite in a race against Coogan, especially in a district that would have been 62 percent Providence and 38 percent East Providence.
"Everyone realized they took me too far into East Providence and shrunk me too much in Providence, taking away too much of Downcity," Moura said. "So we addressed the issue of City Hall and my issue of downtown. I think it's the right thing to do."
Coelho, D-East Providence, said he sought the change because the current proposal would put City Hall and St. Francis Xavier Church in a predominantly Providence district.
Under the current map, Coelho would not have faced another incumbent. "But I would probably have had an opponent anyway because East Providence officials were upset with me for losing the center of the city," he said.
Another proposed change in the House map would shift West Warwick's Arctic Hill neighborhood from a district that includes Rep. Timothy A. Williamson to a district that includes Rep. William J. Murphy.
Murphy, D-West Warwick, said he sought the change because the neighborhood is part of his current district and Williamson, D-West Warwick, would still have the required population level in his district. "It's the no-harm, no-foul rule," he said. Neither Murphy nor Williamson would face another incumbent under the House plan.
A proposed change in the Senate map would switch North Kingstown's Mount View neighborhood from a district that includes Sen. J. Michael Lenihan, D-East Greenwich, to a district that includes Sen. James C. Sheehan, D-North Kingstown.
Sheehan said he sought the change because the proposed district included the entire North Kingstown coastline except for Mount View. Also, he said the neighborhood contains supporters who agree with his opposition to a Quonset-Davisville container port.
Sheehan has blasted the Senate map, comparing the proposed district to an "emaciated seahorse." He would be pitted against Sen. Patrick T. McDonald, D-Narragansett. Yesterday, Sheehan said he still has concerns but described the proposed change as "a facelift for the emaciated seahorse."
Republicans, already an endangered species in the General Assembly, had reason to fear that Democrats would use this year's legislative redistricting and downsizing process to drive them to the brink of extinction.
But under a redistricting bill expected to be introduced this week, GOP lawmakers wouldn't fare much worse than House Democrats and they would actually fare better than Senate Democrats, a Providence Journal analysis shows.
In the House, 48 percent of the Democrats would be stuck in districts with other incumbents, compared with 53 percent of the Republicans. Of the 100 House members, 15 are Republicans and 8 of those would face incumbents in this year's elections. "We did as best as could be expected," House Minority Leader Robert A. Watson said.
In the Senate, 48 percent of the Democrats would be stuck in districts with other incumbents, compared with just 33 percent of the Republicans. Of the 50 Senate members, 6 are Republicans, and 2 of those would face incumbents in this year's elections. "Overall, I don't think we did too bad," Senate Minority Leader Dennis L. Algiere said.
While Republican leaders aren't complaining, some Democrats are questioning whether Democratic leaders struck deals with their GOP colleagues -- either to further their political goals or to punish dissidents.
"Normally, Democrats take care of Democrats, and Republicans take care of Republicans," said former Senate Majority Leader Paul S. Kelly, D-North Smithfield. "But in this instance, you have Democrats versus Democrats, and Republicans -- who are historically disadvantaged -- are fat, dumb and happy."
"It gives one pause," said Kelly, who believes he is a target of gerrymandering. "You have to wonder what kind of deals were cut in the process."
Kelly questioned whether Senate Majority Leader William V. Irons -- who ousted him in a leadership battle two years ago -- cut a deal with Senate Republicans in exchange for support next year, when Irons is expected to make a bid for the new position of Senate president.
The lieutenant governor now presides over the Senate, but next year the gavel will be in the hands of a Senate president elected by members of both parties -- just as Democrats and Republicans now elect the speaker of the House.
Irons, D-East Providence, said he is interested in becoming Senate president, but he said no deals were made.
If a deal had been made, Irons said, the map wouldn't put the Senate Republican leader, Algiere, in a district with a Democratic incumbent, Sen. Donna M. Walsh, of Charlestown. And if a deal had been made, he said, Sen. Mary A. Parella, R-Bristol, wouldn't be so unhappy with the plan, which would carve her town into three Senate districts.
"Paul [Kelly] had a good relationship with Republicans, and I do, too," Irons said. For instance, he said he got to know three Republicans who served on the Senate Corporations Committee when he was chairman -- Sen. David E. Bates, of Barrington, Sen. Leo R. Blais, of Coventry, and Sen. Kevin A. Breene, of West Greenwich. None of those three would face an incumbent under the Senate plan.
But Irons said his aspirations to be Senate president were not tied to the drawing of districts that contain Republican incumbents. "I would be hopeful I would be supported because of my style of leadership," he said.
Sen. Joseph A. Montalbano, vice chairman of the redistricting commission, also dismissed the idea that deals were cut to protect Senate Republicans. "We expect cynics to think that way," he said, "but we attempted to be as fair as possible with the goal of having a defensible plan."
That's not to say that the commission ignored Republican interests.
Montalbano, D-North Providence, said the commission would not have had a defensible plan if it had targeted a large proportion of Republicans. "To Democrats, the ideal number of Republicans is zero," he said. "But we can't draw a redistricting plan to achieve that result. We have to achieve it at the ballot box."
Montalbano said the number of Republican senators has dwindled over the years, reaching its lowest point in his 14 years in office. And he said U.S. Supreme Court cases have shown that a redistricting plan can be successfully challenged if one political party targets the opposing party.
But winning such a legal challenge is now next to impossible, according to the state's redistricting consultant, Kimball W. Brace.
He said a 1986 Supreme Court decision set such a high standard for winning such cases that Rhode Island Republicans would have to be wiped off the political map before they could prevail. He said no one has been successful with a political gerrymandering case since the Davis v. Bandemer decision, which involved a challenge by Indiana Democrats to the 1981 reapportionment.
"Even in states with real heavy-handedness in trying to eliminate the other side, they have not brought suits because it's too difficult," Brace said. In fact, he said he was in Chicago last week for an Illinois redistricting court case, and Republicans there had just withdrawn a political gerrymandering claim because it was too tough to argue.
"It is a very political process," Brace said of redistricting. "If one side is in control, they will often work toward their own advantage."
So why isn't partisan mapmaking happening in a more blatant, widespread way in Rhode Island?
Brace suggested one factor is the overwhelming dominance of Democrats in this state. "They already have the advantage," he said. "It's kind of hard to gain any more advantage."
Also, Rhode Island is redrawing political maps to reflect not just new census figures but also a reduction in the size of the House, from 100 to 75 members, and Senate, from 50 to 38 members. Downsizing is dramatic enough, Brace said, without going to either extreme in trying to protect or punish the GOP. "There is enough gnashing of teeth," he said.
"Another factor," Brace said, "is that it's a small cadre of people in the legislature. People know each other, and even though you are a Democrat or a Republican, people may not look at the party label as much as they do in other states."
Rep. Charles J. Levesque, D-Portsmouth, said that when it comes to House redistricting, party labels don't matter as much as support for Speaker John B. Harwood, D-Pawtucket.
Levesque, a frequent critic of Harwood, said House Republicans got "everything they wanted" in the redistricting process. "Of the 15 Republicans in the House, I'd say 12 or 13 got as good a district as they could expect," he said. The exceptions, he said, include Rep. Bruce J. Long, R-Middletown, and Rep. William H. Murphy, R-Jamestown, who would be pitted against each other.
But on the whole, Republicans fared well because they support the Democratic leadership on key matters, Levesque said. "They are there when they're needed -- that would be a nice slogan for them," he said. "In political thinking, they have been loyal to the speaker, and the speaker has been loyal to them."
The House map pits Levesque against Rep. Joseph N. Amaral, R-Tiverton, in a district that is 77 percent Tiverton. He said House leaders are trying to punish him for dissident views, such as his failed attempt to require an outside audit of the General Assembly's books at least once every two years. While Amaral supported Levesque's bill, Watson and other Republicans voted against it.
In response, Harwood said, "I don't think Representative Levesque has any real basis in fact to substantiate those statements. But I wish Chuck and all my colleagues the best of luck in the upcoming elections."
Watson said he wouldn't dispute that Republicans made out well in redistricting if some Democrats want to "perpetuate that myth." But he said Democrats and Republicans, as well as urban and rural areas, were all vulnerable in the process. "And I have to confess I am surprised at how satisfactory it seems to have gone across the board -- for everybody," he said.
As for Levesque's criticism, Watson said, "Republicans try to steer clear of the gratuitous shots that people take at the speaker. But that's not to say we are a subset of the Democratic Party. Clearly, we are not." For instance, he noted House Republicans have clashed with the Democratic leadership on issues such as separation of legislative and executive powers.
If Republicans lashed out at everything the Democratic majority proposed, GOP lawmakers would get nothing accomplished, Watson said. "You need to be able to work with people -- that's the key to the building," he said. "Chuck has to recognize that sometimes you reap what you sow, and I don't think he should be taking it out on his Republican friends."
Rep. Denise C. Aiken, D-Warwick, chairwoman of the redistricting commission, said she didn't make any deals to protect Republicans, and she said she doubts most members of the Democratic-controlled commission made it a priority to either help or hurt Republicans.
Aiken said a Republican, Rep. Joseph A. Trillo, is south of her district in Warwick, "and speculation was that I'd go south and knock him out." But that wouldn't have made sense in terms of common bonds between communities, she said, so Trillo ended up in a district with no other incumbent while Aiken is pitted against a Democratic incumbent.
"I think it was pretty much even across the board," Aiken said. "Everybody got affected -- Democrats, Republicans, white middle-class guys, women and minorities. And it was because of downsizing. It wasn't the redistricting. It was the downsizing."
A solution may have been found to the dilemma confronting the City Council on redistricting.
Assistant City Solicitor Frank J. Milos Jr. said the city solicitor's office has come up with a way the council can comply with the City Charter without violating the principle of "one person, one vote."
Milos broke the news last night, following a meeting of the City Council Claims Committee, which he serves as counsel.
He said he plans to recommend the proposed solution soon, so the council can proceed with redistricting in a way that avoids a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Steven Brown, executive of the Rhode Island ACLU affiliate, said last month that he would recommend the ACLU sue if the Pawtucket City Council redraws district lines on the basis of the number of registered voters in each of the six council districts, rather than total population.
The council's Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee, headed by Councilor Thomas E. Hodge, had hoped to redistrict on the basis of total population, rather than registered voters, but a provision of the charter stopped the committee and got it into trouble with the ACLU.
The charter provision requires the council to redistrict on the basis of the number of "qualified electors" in each district. In at least two prior redistrictings, in 1980 and 1990, Pawtucket city officials have interpreted the phrase to mean "registered voters" and redistricted accordingly, Milos said.
But nowhere does the charter define "qualified electors" as "registered voters," Milos said. If the council passes a resolution defining the term "qualified electors" to mean district residents who are eligible to vote, rather than residents who have registered, it can redistrict on the basis of voting age population and thus not violate the principle of "one person, one vote."
It remains to be seen whether the council will adopt Milos's recommendation. The next meeting of the Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee is Tuesday.
And it is by no means certain that the recommendation, if adopted, will enable the city to avoid a lawsuit. In a letter to city officials, Brown warned that, if the council redistricts on the basis of the number of registered voters, rather than total population, "thousands of qualified but unregistered voters would literally be disenfranchised and treated as nonentities for 10 years."
Milos said he is confident his recommendation is viable. Since 1962, when the Supreme Court established the principle of "one person, one vote" in Baker vs. Carr, appeals courts have disagreed about whether to use total or voting age population as the basis for redrawing voting districts.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has said that only redistricting according to total population is constitutional. The 4th and 5th Circuits, on the other hand, have said that a legislative body can redistrict on the basis of voting age population. "At this point, there is no Supreme Court case that says you have to use one rather than the other," Milos said.
Of the 73,000 people in the city, 58,000 are of voting age, while just 37,000 are registered. If the council redistricts on the basis of the 58,000, Milos said, the redistricting should stand up in court.
She admits it's a long shot. But Rep. Charlene M. Lima is hoping to halt the downsizing of the General Assembly before it takes effect in 2003.
The state redistricting commission has just completed the torturous task of redrawing legislative districts to reflect both new census figures and a 1994 voter mandate to shrink the House from 100 to 75 members and the Senate from 50 to 38 members. The General Assembly is expected to vote on the redistricting bill in February.
But with the legislature reconvening tomorrow, Lima said she has a plan to keep the General Assembly at its current size.
It won't be easy. Under the state Constitution, the General Assembly cannot change its size without a referendum held during a general election, Lima said. So she wants to hold a constitutional convention, which would be used to schedule a referendum prior to the November 2002 general election. If voters decide to keep the General Assembly at its current size, the proposed legislative maps would be tossed out, new maps would be drawn, more hearings would be held, and the House and Senate would then have to vote on the maps.
Is that realistic?
Well, House Speaker John B. Harwood said he wants to keep the General Assembly at its current size, but he also said it may be too late to stop the downsizing process now.
Harwood, D-Pawtucket, noted that in 2000 the House voted 85 to 14 to put the downsizing matter on the ballot again, but the Senate rejected the idea, saying Rhode Islanders don't like to be second-guessed.
"We should keep it at 100," Harwood said of the size of the House, "because downsizing would hurt minorities and women. More representation is always better, in my opinion."
Lima, D-Cranston, said she has asked that legislation be drafted to repeal downsizing, and she plans to introduce the bill next month. She said Rep. Aisha W. Abdullah-Odiase , D-Providence, is also interested in such a bill. "If it can be done, we are going to do it," she said.
Lima said the proposed new maps highlighted the downside of downsizing. "It sounded like a good idea on its surface," she said, "but once we got involved in the process, we found out that people would have less of a voice and neighborhoods would be broken up."
Under the initial plans, Lima was placed in a district with two other female incumbents. But she repeatedly lashed out at the plan during public hearings, and the latest plan puts her in a district with Rep. Michael S. Pisaturo , who plans to run for secretary of state. "I ended up with a better, more compact district, but it's a bad idea for the state as a whole," she said.
Lima said people told her it was a long shot to get her district lines changed, so she's not deterred by the long odds of halting the downsizing process just as it's rolling toward a conclusion. "As Yogi Berra says, it ain't over till it's over," she said.
Plans to redraw the six City Council districts according to population have been dropped.
The City Council now plans to equalize the number of voters in each district by counting registered voters, not total population, Thomas E. Hodge, chairman of the council's Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee, said.
The change represents an abrupt about-face for the redistricting committee, entrusted with the task of finding the best way to redraw district lines.
At a meeting earlier this month, the committee decided to recommend that the council apply the principle of "one man, one vote" to the redistricting process, redrawing the city's six council districts on the basis of population, rather than the number of registered voters, as the City Charter provides.
When the matter came before the City Council last week, however, Robert E. Carr, an at-large council member and lawyer who was not named to the redistricting committee, pointed out that the charter cannot be overridden without first going to the voters.
An amendment to the charter would have to be sought, Carr said, before total population could be substituted for registered voters as the basis for redrawing district lines.
"We could put it on the ballot as a question," Hodge said, " but it wouldn't take effect until the next redistricting."
The next redistricting is in 2011. District lines must be set by May 24, according to city Registrar of Voters Dawn M. McCormick.
Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee members Raymond T. "Chip" Hoyas Jr., John J. Barry III and Hodge had decided to redistrict on the basis of population because it seemed the safest way of complying with the principle of "one man, one vote" articulated in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Baker vs. Carr.
But the Supreme Court nowhere states that total population is the only valid basis for drawing district lines, Assistant City Solicitor Frank J. Milos Jr. said in a memorandum to McCormick.
"The 5th Circuit (in Chen vs. City of Houston) held that the decision as to which population figures to use was a 'choice left to the political process,' " Milos wrote. "Likewise, the 4th Circuit has held that the decision whether to use total population or voting age population is a political choice generally not reviewable by the courts."
Under the circumstances, "it does not appear that Section 2-103 of the City Charter (which requires that district lines be drawn according to the number of registered voters) is unconstitutional," Milos wrote.
The city's population has shifted over the past decade. As a result, the distribution of registered voters in the city's six council districts has become lopsided.
According to the Board of Canvassers, there are 6,177 registered voters in Ward 1; 6,440 in Ward 2; 7,185 in Ward 3; 6,259 in Ward 4; 4,902 in Ward 5; and 5,940 in Ward 6.
In October, government watchdogs called for Rep. William San Bento Jr. to abstain from voting on proposed new congressional districts, noting that he has been Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy's campaign treasurer since 1994.
But last week, San Bento was among the 16 redistricting commission members who voted unanimously for a package that included new House, Senate and congressional maps.
In an interview before Tuesday night's vote, San Bento said he saw no ethical problem with casting a vote for the congressional lines. He emphasized that he is not a paid employee of the Kennedy campaign, and said he is friends with Kennedy and Rep. James R. Langevin .
San Bento, D-Pawtucket, who was appointed to the commission by House Speaker John B. Harwood , also noted that the two congressmen seemed to have agreed on how to draw the district lines.
San Bento's role in the Kennedy campaign began receiving attention after Kennedy questioned whether his former chief of staff, Tony Marcella , should be on the redistricting commission. Marcella also voted on all the maps.
At the time, H. Philip West Jr ., executive director of Common Cause of Rhode Island, had predicted that San Bento would recognize the conflict of interest and refrain from voting on the congressional map, saying, "He is an honorable person."
When asked about San Bento's vote last week, West said, "In the end, there were so many problems with the way the commission was operating, that was the least of it. I'd say that the commission in a lot of ways was doing the bidding of others outside that room, and to single that one out would be unfair."
West, secretary of the Fair Redistricting Coalition, said the commission followed municipal borders and kept "communities of interest" intact in many places. "So that's what makes the gerrymanders that remain so disconcerting," he said.
The City Council's Redistricting Committee decided yesterday to apply the principle of "one man, one vote," redrawing the city's six council districts on the basis of population, rather than the number of registered voters.
Redistricting Committee members John J. Barry III, Raymond T. "Chip" Hoyas Jr. and Thomas E. Hodge said they figured that was the best way to proceed, even though the City Charter says council districts should be based not on total population, but on the number of registered voters.
The charter was adopted a decade before the U.S. Supreme Court established the principle of "one man, one vote" in the 1962 case Baker vs. Carr, holding that the Constitution requires that legislative bodies make a good faith effort to construct districts "as nearly of equal population as is practicable."
In a memo, Assistant Pawtucket City Solicitor Frank J. Milos Jr. said subsequent Supreme Court cases seem to permit the council to redraw districts on the basis of the number of registered voters, as the charter provides. But the members of the Redistricting Committee decided to play it safe.
The best way to prevent a legal challenge of the redistricting process, they reasoned, is by drawing the districts according to population. "I feel you have a stronger argument," said Hodge, a city councilor-at-large who chairs the Redistricting Committee, "if you go with the principle of 'one man, one vote."'
If it's done right, redistricting will fix things so that a voter in one ward has as much influence over the outcome of an election as a voter in any of the other wards.
As of yesterday, Pawtucket had 36,903 registered voters. For each voter to have as much influence as any other, there should be approximately 6,150 voters per ward.
Over the past decade, however, the number of registered voters in the six council districts has become lopsided.
As a result, there are 6,177 registered voters in Ward 1; 6,440 in Ward 2; 7,185 in Ward 3; 6,259 in Ward 4; 4,902 in Ward 5; and 5,940 in Ward 6.
The ward where district lines seem most likely to change as a result of redistricting is Ward 6, in Woodlawn, represented by Mary E. Bray, Redistricting Committee members said.
Although it has the lowest number of registered voters of any ward in city, Ward 6 has the highest concentration of tenements, Barry said, and the number of people living there appears to have grown.
But Barry, who represents Ward 4 and serves as City Council president, said he was just theorizing. Because the decision was made to redistrict on the basis of population, rather than the number of registered voters, no one on the council has any firm figures yet. The Redistricting Committee therefore decided to look for a company capable of using census data to redraw district lines.
City Registrar of Voters Dawn M. McCormick said the company that did the statewide legislative redistricting, Election Data Services of Washington, D.C., has been recommended to do the redistricting job in Pawtucket. But the estimated cost -- $21,000 to $37,000 -- makes the job subject to charter bidding requirements. Accordingly, the Redistricting Committee voted to solicit bids.
New London Day
State Reps. Peter Lewiss and John Thompson would end up in the same district, possibly setting up a Democratic primary next year, under a redistricting plan headed to the Rhode Island legislature for approval.
After four months of work and 22 public meetings, the state's 16-member Special Commission on Reapportionment voted unanimously Tuesday in Providence to recommend a plan to the General Assembly to reduce the number of House seats from 100 to 75 and Senate seats from 50 to 38. The proposed House map leaves Lewiss and Thompson in the same district and lumps other portions of town in two districts that stretch into Hopkinton, as well as Charlestown and South Kingstown.
The Senate map would expand the district of state Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, to include most of Charlestown to the east, possibly setting up a contest with Democratic state Sen. Donna Walsh, whose district now includes Charlestown, Hopkinton, Richmond and a small part of Westerly.
Under the House plan, Westerly would lose essentially one representative in Providence, according to Lewiss and Thompson, who both said Tuesday they plan to seek their party's nomination next year.
ìWe lose one full seat, that's the end result no matter how you count it,î Thompson said. ìThe new partial districts in Westerly will be heavily weighted in Hopkinton and Charlestown and all the votes there will come from the home base.î
Thompson now serves the 50th House district and Lewiss the 51st. On the new map, however, both would live in the 64th. That district would run roughly from Pleasant Street and the railroad tracks, south through downtown, to Watch Hill, Misquamicut and the rest of the shoreline. Its northern border would follow the railroad tracks and Route 91 past Chapman Pond to Pound Road. Its eastern boundary would follow Pound Road to Dunn's Corners-Bradford Road, then along Route 1 up to Shelter Harbor.
The new 63rd district would include all of Hopkinton and the North End, White Rock and Potter Hill sections of Westerly. It would also include all areas of Westerly north of the railroad tracks and much of Bradford, the northeast corner of town. The new 62nd district would include most of Westerly east of Pound Road and Dunn's Corners-Bradford Road between the railroad tracks and Route 1, as well as Shelter Harbor. It would then stretch to include the southern and eastern portions of Charlestown, the southern portion of South Kingstown, and also Block Island.
The House and Senate will hold hearings on the statewide plans before voting on them. Both Lewiss and Thompson hope to persuade their colleagues to change the Westerly districts, but both conceded that is unlikely. Thompson said he might consider a legal challenge to the plans, but he admitted he would be hard-pressed to show evidence of gerrymandering.
The legislature must adopt a plan by February to give towns and cities time to adjust their districts before the 2002 primaries. Rhode Island voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1994 reduce the number of state legislators by the start of the 2003 session.
Under the 2000 U.S. Census and the state's calculations, each House district should include roughly 14,000 people, plus or minus 5 percent. Westerly is entitled to 1.64 House seats in that formula, Lewiss said.
The plan that the reapportionment commission has recommended has good and bad points, he said.
ìThe positive is that Westerly will have one district that is 100 percent Westerly. The negative is that other parts in town will be in districts that are almost 100 percent somewhere else.î
Over the past few years, Democratic state Representatives William Vieira Sr. and John D. Barr III have worked together in the General Assembly, backing up each other on issues of interest to Lincoln and Pawtucket.
"I consider Bill a good friend," Barr said. "He has cosponsored every piece of Lincoln legislation we have had. We've worked extremely well together."
But next fall, they won't be working together, they'll probably be running against each other, if the legislative redistricting plan proposed Tuesday night by the Redistricting Commission is adopted. It must still be reviewed and approved by the General Assembly.
A seething Sen. Paul Kelly criticized the plan _ which puts a northern piece of North Smithfield, the part where Kelly lives, into Sen. Paul W. Fogarty's district _ as a political gerrymander and punishment for his losing the majority leader post last year.
"It was so blatant, so thinly camouflaged, that I didn't think anyone in their right mind would go through with it," Kelly said, explaining what he thought when he first saw the new map.
His current district includes all of North Smithfield and the southwestern part of Woonsocket. The new one is all of Glocester and Burrillville and a slice of North Smithfield, with less than a tenth of it from Kelly's old district.
"They had to cross Glocester and Burrillville and come right down the middle of the road my house is on to have the desired effect," Kelly said. The plan cuts North Smithfield in two and costs Woonsocket a state senator, he added.
He even raised the possibility he might move a few streets south of his current home, just to get into the new 22nd Senate District, which contains part of North Smithfield and Smithfield.
Other valley legislators said they aren't pleased either, but with the commission's twin mandates of adjusting for the new census count and reducing the size of the House from 100 to 75 representatives and the Senate from 50 to 38, combined districts were inevitable.
"We always knew redistricting was going to be a very difficult and painful process,' Barr said, "and we're finding that out."
Barr and Vieira aren't the only potential allies-turned-rivals in the Blackstone Valley. In Woonsocket, Representatives Todd Brien and Stella Guerra Brien would face off against each other, as would incumbent Representatives Donald Munschy and Roger Picard.
Another incumbent-versus-incumbent representative race could occur in Cumberland, where David Iwuc and Donald O'Reilly find themselves in a new district.
There would have been two more such confrontations, but Rep. Mabel Anderson decided not to seek reelection, meaning Elizabeth Dennigan will be the sole incumbent in her new Pawtucket district.
Likewise, Antonio Pires's decision to retire from the General Assembly this year spared Pawtucket representative Peter Kilmartin the prospect of an incumbent opponent in the 2002 election.
In the Senate, besides the Kelly-Fogarty combination, Lincoln Sen. Brian Hunter and Cumberland Sen. David Connors are now in the same cross-river district. Pawtucket incumbent Senators Thomas Coderre and John F. McBurney III are in a new district together as well.
Connors said the political collisions along the Blackstone are unavoidable.
The redistricting commission is required to protect minority representation wherever possible, he said, so that puts a priority on keeping Central Falls voters in their own districts; minority voters from there can't be used to even off unbalanced districts to the north.
With the Massachusetts border to the east and north, the only way for the district lines to move was west, and into each other, Connors said.
"This is kind of what had to happen," Connors said. "There were not a lot of options ... There were only so many ways the districts could be divided up."
Woonsocket state Rep. Roger Picard, now in a district with Munschy, said he thinks the redistricting plan will be an improvement for the city. Though it is losing seats, from four to three, it will have three districts that are all-Woonsocket and not shared with other towns, unlike the way two of the city's four current seats are configured.
Barr worries that the opposite is true for Lincoln in the senate. Currently, the town dominates Hunter's 34th Senate District, Barr said. But under the new plan, Lincoln is shared among three other districts, creating the possibility that the town may not have a Lincoln resident in the state senate after 2002.
While voters may be interested in the broad lines of the districts and the names of their new legislators, for the representatives and senators, where the lines are have added importance.
Connors, for example said he's losing an area south of Dexter Street to Sen. Daniel Issa. It's an area that is a stronghold for some of his supporters.
Barr compared the new political contests to his high school football days in the Blackstone Valley. Friendships often crossed town lines, he said, and in some games you lined up against your best friends.
"But even though they're your friends," he said, "when it's game day, I play to win."
Sen. James C. Sheehan has enlisted the Town Council's support in his effort to keep North Kingstown intact as Senate lines are re-drawn.
Sheehan, D-North Kingstown, went before the council Monday night to bring attention to two plans proposed by the redistricting commisssion which he says are unfair to the town.
The Town Council passed a resolution opposing alternative plans D and E, both of which split the town into two separate senatorial districts.
Plan E, which Sheehan says is the preferred plan of the commission, splits North Kingstown into eastern and western halves. The western half of the town would be joined with East Greenwich to form one senatorial district, and the eastern half with Narragansett to form another district.
"There's no other way around it, it looks like it's been gerrymandered," he said. "If you look at it, a senator from Narragansett would control all of North Kingstown's coastline."
Plan E would pit Sheehan against Narragansett Democratic Sen. Patrick T. McDonald in a primary, who Sheehan says has three Democrats for every one of his.
The commission was scheduled to vote last night on whether to recommend plan E to the General Assembly.
District lines are redrawn every 10 years to reflect new census figures -- but this round of redistricting is about more than population counts. A 1994 voter mandate called for the state to shrink its legislature by 25 percent: The House of Representatives will be reduced to 75 members from 100, and the Senate to 38 from 50.
Sheehan said he believes that the plans to split up the town are a form of retribution for his strong opposition to a port at Quonset.
"I can only assume that this has something to do with the container port," he said.
The first-term senator is less critical of plan D, which splits North Kingstown into northern and southern districts.
"If they have to divide our town, a north-south split makes more sense," he said.
But, following census 2000 figures, the town does not have to be divided, the resolution states. With a population of 26,326, the town qualifies for its own senatorial district.
In their resolution, the Town Council calls for the redistricting commission to reconsider making North Kingstown its own district. The council notes that plans D and E do not meet the guidelines for Senate reapportionment set by the General Assembly.
"They are neither compact, nor contiguous to North Kingstown municipal lines. These alternatives are in fact grossly unfair to the town and people of North Kingstown," the resolution reads.
Sheehan says that the effects of splitting up North Kingstown will reach far beyond the next election.
"We're talking about a generation of North Kingstown residents that is going to be short shrifted," he said.
In other business Monday night, the council passed a resolution opposing the Lottery Commission's proposal to increase the number of video-gambling machines at Lincoln Greyhound Park and Newport Grand Jai Alai.
Under the proposal, the number of terminals at Lincoln would jump from 1,700 to 3,000; Newport would have a total of 1,301 machines, up from 776.
"State initiatives for support of the
economy would be better invested in real economic development and
productive jobs," the resolution says.