GOP Set to Go to War Over Redistricting
Saturday, February 11, 2012
State GOP officials say they plan to file a lawsuit next week over the redistricting legislation signed into law by Governor Lincoln Chafee.
The Republicans were outraged by a decision to move several hundred voters between Districts 47 and 48, which pushed Donald Fox, the opponent of District 47 State Rep. Cale Keable, out of the district. Party officials have indicated that Fox will likely move back into the district to run against Keable, whom he lost to by less than 200 votes in 2010.
In a letter sent last week to House Speaker Gordon Fox and Kimball Brace, the $700,000 consultant that helped draw the new maps, State GOP executive director Patrick Sweeney made it clear the Party intends to sue over the bill. Sweeney warned that no documents having anything to do with redistricting should be destroyed.
“In light of the anticipated lawsuit, we strongly urge and caution you not to allow any such destruction of evidence, either in paper or electronic form,” he wrote. “Please preserve any and all documents and data relating to the redistricting process that Election Data Services, Inc., the redistricting commission, or any other state agency or political subdivision may have from any and all sources. “
Sweeney confirmed Friday that the Party still intends to sue. He said the process was “purely political.”
“From the testimony we heard, it’s a purely political move with no independent basis,” he said. “There’s no natural, historic, geographic or any other consideration made with good faith in the drawing of these lines. The map was drawn to shift five times as many people as needed. This is blatant political gerrymandering.”
The District 47/48 issue wasn’t the only problem with the process, but it was the most blatant, Sweeney said.
“The RIGOP wants to shed light on the redistricting process and let the public know how $700,000.00 of their tax dollars are being spent,” he said. “This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue, this is a taxpayer issue and how their interests are being represented.”
Minority Leader: A Lack of Honesty
House Minority leader Brian C. Newberry raised questions about the legislation before the House overwhelmingly approved it. He proposed an amendment that he says wouldn’t have changed anything except for the two House districts, but it was defeated.
“Redistricting is a political process and I have never complained about that,” Newberry said during a floor speech last week. “I don’t have trouble with politics being involved. However, I do have a problem with the lack of honesty about what’s going on.”
Newberry said it was a shame that there were 21 public meetings that meant very little in the grand scheme of things.
“It is obvious though that this commission process that we all voted for had no say whatsoever in this change,” he said.
Still, not everyone was disappointed with the redistricting bill as it related to legislative districts. State Rep. Dan Gordon, who has publicly criticized Newberry, said he thinks the lawsuit is essentially creating a sideshow. He said it’s time to focus on the economy.
“In my opinion, the pursuit of a lawsuit is merely ‘banging pots and pans’ over a perceived, but completely unfounded slight, is not only detrimental to the Party but a distraction from the work to be accomplished this legislative season,” Gordon said. “It’s no secret this state is in serious financial trouble. How about using some of that ‘creativity’ to contribute towards solving problems, instead of creating them?”
“I Told You So”
But Common Cause Executive Director John Marion said he raised questions about incumbent protection all along.
“I don't really have much to add about the coming GOP suit other than, ‘I told you so,’” Marion said. “Two years ago I introduced a bill that would have prohibited the commission from considering where the incumbent politicians live when drawing maps. I reiterated our position that incumbents should not be protected in our testimony before the commission. Now, at the conclusion of the process, we are seeing accusations that incumbents were protected for political reasons. Had they prohibited incumbent protection, that accusation couldn't even have been made. “
Marion said he was generally pleased with the way the public portion of the process unfolded. He said the committee solicited and received a lot of public input. However, he said, the political machinations that occurred outside of public view undermined the public portion of the process.
“Ultimately the consultant who drew the lines was not insulated from political influence,” Marion said. “The need for a truly independent commission, rather than one hand selected by General Assembly leaders, could not be more apparent. Removing this power from the Assembly will not be easy, akin to the fight for judicial merit selection in the 1990s, and Separation of Powers in the 2000s. But it is a fight worth waging.”
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