PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The General Assembly’s top Democrats have picked the group of 18 lawmakers and members of the public who will redraw Rhode Island’s political maps in the coming months, setting the stage for next year’s election.
The announcement comes one day before the U.S. Census Bureau is scheduled to release granular population counts from last year’s census that will be used to determine which parts of the state need more and less representation on Smith Hill. The state-level census data already offered an initial surprise back in April, when Rhode Island unexpectedly retained both of its two seats in the U.S. House.
The work of the Special Commission on Reapportionment is always closely watched at the State House, since the redrawing of district boundaries will change the battle lines for all 113 House and Senate seats as incumbents and challengers weigh whether to run.
“Redistricting is an important and often challenging task that needs to be done in a fair and transparent way,” House Speaker Joe Shekarchi, D-Warwick, said in a statement. “I’m confident that the pool of talent, experience and professionalism that we’ve gathered together on this commission will come up with a fair and equitable process based on the census data.”
Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio have already hired Kimball Brace, a consultant who has redrawn Rhode Island’s maps for decades now, to run the process once again. He has billed the state $423,000 since last July, according to data obtained by 12 News.
The commission will hold hearings this fall to gather input on proposed new maps, and is supposed to make its final recommendation to the General Assembly by Jan. 15. The first hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Members of the public will have access to the software Brace uses, Ruggerio said.
Shekarchi and Ruggerio each had nine picks for the redistricting panel: six members of their respective chambers, plus three others to represent the general public.
The nine commission members appointed by Shekarchi are:
- State Rep. Arthur Corvese, D-North Providence
- State Rep. Grace Diaz, D-Providence
- State Rep. Katherine Kazarian, D-East Providence
- State Rep. Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield
- State Rep. Robert Phillips, D-Woonsocket
- State Rep. David Place, R-Burrillville
- Antonio Lopes, CEO of TILT Communications
- Kaprece Ransaw, a real estate agent
- Former state Rep. Stephen Ucci, who co-chaired the last reapportionment panel.
The nine commission members appointed by Ruggerio are:
- State Sen. Stephen Archambault, D-Smithfield
- State Sen. Walter Felag Jr., D-Warren
- State Sen. Ana Quezada, D-Providence
- State Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski, D-South Kingstown
- State Sen. Jessica de la Cruz, R-North Smithfield
- State Sen. Gordon Rogers, R-Foster
- Maria Bucci, former Cranston City Council member
- Alvin Reyes, an official at the IBEW Local 99 union
- Former state Sen. Harold Metts.
State Sen. Tiara Mack, D-Providence, criticized the overall makeup of the panel, including the appointment of Metts, whom she defeated in the 2020 primary. “The choice of choosing the people on the redistricting committee is a clear power grab and move to keep diverse voices out of the next decade of decisions,” she said.
Ruggerio spokesperson Greg Pare responded, “The Senate president appointed an ethnically and geographically diverse group of individuals to the Reapportionment Commission, including progressive voices.” He added, “I would also note that Harold Metts was the lead plaintiff in the 2002 suit that resulted in a doubling of minority representation in the Senate.”
Massachusetts has already kicked off its own redistricting process, with lawmakers holding virtual hearings in recent weeks to solicit input.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram
Eli Sherman contributed to this report.