The Redistricting Process
This seems like another one like I referenced earlier with the call for a “Wait, What?!” category, or maybe it’s even slipping into a different one, some three-letter acronym that begins with the same letter as “Wait, What?!”
What is going on with this redistricting process? Let’s take a step back for a minute. What is the whole point? Isn’t the point to simply change up districts in such a way that everyone is as close to being equally represented as possible? Isn’t that it? So then why don’t we simply stick a couple smart people in a room with some maps and census data, stick the Capitol TV cameras on them the whole time and let them redraw some maps. Transparent and open. That’s apparently not what we have.
We had Common Cause asking to make sure that no incumbent was specifically protected or that any incumbent’s home address was taken into consideration with the process. They got no response to that request.
Then GoLocalProv reported on a redistricting meeting back in November:
For example, during a redistricting commission hearing last month, Representative Joseph Trillo told Kimball Brace, the consultant in charge of advising the state on how to redraw its legislative maps, that he wanted him to make sure no two current incumbents would be forced to face one another.
Wait, what?! Why? What gives an incumbent any advantage here? Isn’t the point to simply redraw the lines? Why is it the goal to redraw the lines AND protect incumbents? So while we’re politicizing this, hey Joe, in case you didn’t notice, there aren’t too many Republicans at the State House. Maybe if some districts were drawn up where there was no incumbent, maybe a Republican could grab a seat like that.
Trillo asked: “Is every effort being made to insure that—let’s say there’s a situation where there’s a rep on one street and one on the next street over, there’s another representative with an entirely different district—to keep those individual reps in separate districts?”
Brace said he was doing his best at following orders—making sure politics played a role in the process of redistricting—but said that given the realities of population shifts, there may be situations in which, two sitting representatives would be forced to challenge one another.
“We did attempt to prevent that occurrence,” said Brace.
What? ‘making sure politics played a role’? What? Isn’t that the last thing we want?
[Trillo] realized that he had been drawn into a district with another incumbent. The problem, he reasoned, was that the consultant used his business address to draw the maps, as opposed to his home address. Trillo made it known that he was none too happy with the result.
“I made it very clear to you when we met downstairs which was my home address and which was my business address,” said Trillo.
In spite of the fact that this reads like a parent scolding a child, let me say again, it shouldn’t matter. Draw the lines wherever they make the most sense.
Trillo caught some heat for his comments. Other people thought he was out of line with his demands, as I do. However I think the major difference here is Trillo is a Republican, so he doesn’t really have any other forum to state his case. One can’t be blamed for having a suspicion that if any “leadership friendly” Democrats had concerns, those could be brought up and addressed privately.
Plus, this was not something only limited to Republicans. One night last week, we had requests from legislators asking their colleagues to take a lie detector test with regard to the procedure. Also, Democrat Charlene Lima of Cranston, no stranger to the politics of redistricting, complained loudly when map ‘C’ had her put in the same district with fellow incumbent John Carnevale. Yet again, who cares. Draw the lines where they make the most sense.
Then on the Congressional level, we hear of the mass griping about where the line will be drawn between CD1 and CD2. We have staffers from both the Langevin and Cicilline camps poring over the data and even Langevin helpfully offering up his own suggested map.
Redistricting might be the second scummiest thing in Rhode Island politics (nepotism and ‘in the know’ hiring may rank higher) so if politicians wanted to really clean up their image, this was an opportunity to do so. Open up the process, make it transparent and clear, make the goals public and clear ahead of time and stick to them. The wrangling isn’t done yet, the back room dealing isn’t done yet and as always, there will be winners and losers. It’s just too bad that yet again, the losers will be the voters of Rhode Island.