September 2, 2011

Redistricting from a Narrow Range

Justin Katz

Even putting aside the inevitable corruption and fingers on the scale with the latest redistricting commission — which will help in determining which constituencies are grouped together for the purpose of electing government officials — the membership strikes me as having a conspicuous narrowness of geographic coverage:

  • Rep. Stephen Ucci, Johnston
  • Rep. Grace Diaz, Providence
  • Rep Donald Lally, Narragansett
  • Rep. William San Bento, Pawtucket
  • Ray Rickman, Providence
  • Delia Rodriguez-Masjoan, Providence
  • Felix Appolonia, West Warwick
  • Sen. Michael McCaffrey, Warwick
  • Mary Ellen Goodwin, Providence
  • Beatrice Lanzi, Cranston
  • Juan Pichardo, Providence
  • Francis Flanagan, Middletown
  • Matthew Gunnip, Pawtucket
  • Arthur Strother, Providence
  • Rep. Joseph Trillo, Warwick
  • Rep. Daniel Reilly, Portsmouth
  • Sen. David Bates, Barrington
  • Sen. Francis Maher, Exeter

Granted, our state isn't all that big and the population centers around Providence, but one third of the appointees are from Providence. John Marion of Common Cause appears encouraged "that the commission represents a degree of 'racial and ethnic diversity,'" as reporter Randal Edgar paraphrased, but I wonder whether that's the diversity that ought to be considered of greatest importance.

From my perch in Tiverton, I've found the breakdown of districts peculiar. My state senator's district spans all the way to Warren — two bridges and an inconvenient drive away. My town's other senator draws some of his voting base from Newport, yet neither of them touches down in Portsmouth, the town next door.

I suspect much could be understood of the list above (and the results that those on it will provide as they begin their work) by breaking out recent votes by precinct. It seems to me, though, that for real representation diversity ought to be considered as a matter of where people live and the cultures of each community. For that to be possible, the redistricting commission would have to be such that the geography covered couldn't fit under a "Vote Democrat" coffee cup placed on a standard glove-compartment map.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

There was an interesting article a week ago on the redistricting of California.

Overall, I'd say the citizen group did a better job, simply because politicians are no longer rigging the game to ensure their own reelection. But the citizen group brought its own strange set of problems:

"We went from a political gerrymand to a racial gerrymand. That the commission became overly conscious of drawing seats on race. The Latino seats, the black seats, the Asian seats."

Just confirming what we already knew - that the progressive doctrine of "celebrating diversity" really just results in segregation and clashes between different special interest factions.

Posted by: Dan at September 2, 2011 8:15 AM

Redistricting should be done by computers, not politicians. You could program in census data along with weighted 'neighborhood boundaries' that would keep districts sanely-shaped.

No fuss, no politicking, no questions about fairness, and answers in a few minutes. Matlab and ArcGIS all the way.

Posted by: mangeek at September 2, 2011 8:33 AM

Justin brings up a good point about geographic diversity, and one I made to the Journal. Unfortunately it didn't make the cut. There are many ways to define representation, and this commission certainly embraces (racial and ethnic), but not another (geographic). What is more telling are the 12 legislators on a commission of 18 members. There is little political diversity on the panel. Those East Bay districts are drawn that way because the past leadership of the GA wanted to punish certain people. As long as we let incumbents control the process we'll get those sorts of results. Common Cause had a lot to do with the creation of the new California system. No one is completely happy with those districts, and that's probably the best sign that they did their job.

Posted by: John M. at September 2, 2011 9:20 AM

BTW, From what I remember U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California; represents a Hispanic majority district in her state.
Getting back to Rhode Island, the two U.S House Districts should really not have much trouble. I understand we were lucky not to lose one of our u.s. House seats.
On the state level, it will be interesting on how the R.I. State Senate and R.I. House of Representatives redistricting is done with population shifts in the state. The Senate must have 38 members and the R.I. House 75,. In Connecticut their is flexibility in their state constitution, in membership in their legislative bodies. If I remember correctly their State Senate has to be 25 or 30 to fifty members, which is presently 36, and their House of Representatives has to be 125 to 225 members. BTW, the state committees of both parties in Connecticut have two members per senatorial district unlike Rhode Island.

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at September 2, 2011 2:42 PM

Given that the combined population of Tiverton and Little Compton is about 19,000, and a state Senate district should average about 28,000, why on earth does Tiverton have more than one state senator? Better to have one senator for whom the two towns are the major priority than two who have more constituents in Portsmouth or Bristol.

Posted by: bella at September 2, 2011 3:08 PM

The House should be based on population, but we should change the Senate to have one member elected from each of the cities and towns. Then we can have diverse representation and adequate checks and balances.

Posted by: Max Fenig at September 2, 2011 11:38 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.