Sure, it’s not Warwick, but redistricting in the Blackstone Valley area of Rhode Island is causing a stir among Republicans statewide.
The changes to districts come as new census figures show increases in population in various places throughout the state, requiring the shift of district lines to even out district sizes statewide. The target number for House districts is 14,034, and districts must be within that number by 2.5 percent, or about 350 people.
Controversy and a potential lawsuit are brewing due to the redrawing of House Districts 47 (Burrilville and Glocester) and 48 (North Smithfield). District 27, which is represented by Democrat Cale Keable, needed to gain roughly 300 people, while District 48 had roughly 600 in excess.
Patrick Sweeney, executive director of the Rhode Island Republican State Committee said a simple swap of 300 people would have done the trick, but instead, the new lines transferred 1,500.
Kimball Brace, the state’s redistricting consultant, said the population changes in surrounding districts caused the effect on Districts 47 and 48.
“Yes the population has shifted but that’s not true with the Blackstone Valley,” said Rep. Brian Newberry, House Minority Leader and Representative of District 48.
Brace said the statewide changes affected many districts, and it would be impossible to just change the two districts.
The new lines do more than just swap 1,500 people from one district to another, they cut a key Republican out of District 47.
“It’s blatant political gerrymandering,” said Sweeney.
Sweeney said he could find no other basis for the new district lines other than politics. He believes the reasoning behind this redistricting is to push Republican Donald Fox, a potential competitor of incumbent state Representative Cale Keable, out of the district. In 2010, Keable beat Fox by less than 200 votes, and Sweeney sees this move as a way to ensure Fox won’t be able to take the House seat in a 2012 election.
“In many cases it’s a blatant attempt to prevent a Republican from running against an incumbent,” said Rep. Joseph Trillo (R-Dist. 24, Warwick).
Brace said the redistricting was based upon other factors like fire and school district lines. Laws say that redistricting must be based upon a boundary, either historical or geographical, and cannot be solely based on politics.
But Sweeney and other Republicans call this a case of “Keablemandering,” and accuse Brace of making an obvious political move.
“I don’t even know where Don Fox lives,” contested Brace.
Newberry amended the proposal to move roughly 300 people from the Spring Lake section of town, thereby balancing the numbers without displacing as many constituents.
Cale Keable voted in favor of the amendment, which Newberry and Sweeney said was “cynical.”
“Cale wanted to cut [Fox] out of the district, and they rearranged the line to cover up what they were doing so we wouldn’t notice,” said Newberry.
Newberry said Brace’s reasoning for redrawing the lines as they did was merely a way to disguise their true political intentions.
“I knew it was political but I wanted to see what he would say,” said Newberry of a recent hearing in which he questioned Brace. “He was making it up as he was going along.”
Newberry said he would have appreciated it if Brace and the Reapportionment Commission had confessed to their intentions.
“It’s an insult to our intelligence,” said Newberry. “I want to shed some light on this whole process.”
Now the RI GOP is looking to move forward with a lawsuit to do just that. They said they plan to file suit to contest the redistricting of Districts 47 and 48 once the Governor signs the plan into law.
But Sweeney is worried that crucial evidence will be destroyed before the suit is underway. Traditionally, once redistricting is over, all documents relating to the process are destroyed.
In a letter to Speaker Gordon Fox and Kimball Brace, Sweeney quoted Rep. Karen MacBeth as saying documents will be shredded at the conclusion of the proceedings.
“I don’t know why anyone would do that,” said Sweeney. Legally, once they file suit, the opposing side would not be able to destroy any evidence pertinent to the case.
Trillo said the GOP is justified in their suit, and thinks they could come out victorious.
Senator Michael McCaffrey (D-Dist 29, Warwick) who served on the Reapportionment Commission said that the GOP has every right to file suit, but he doubts it will be successful.
“The process we’ve followed will stand the test of the courts,” he said.
If they are successful, Sweeney said they look to have an expedited process in order to redraw the lines before candidate declaration in the spring.