Editorial: In Rhode Island we trust

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rhode Island officials approved a decennial redistricting bill last Wednesday that will restructure political boundaries throughout the state’s two congressional districts. The legislation’s passage has left politicians and citizens alike questioning the bill’s impartiality and the degree of influence its chief beneficiary, Rep. David Cicilline ’83, D-R.I., had in its controversial passage. While the bill purports to give minorities a greater voice in government, we believe this is just a public justification for political self-interest.    

Although numerous Rhode Island politicians, including House Minority Leader Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, have complained about the bill’s adverse effects on their respective House districts, the biggest consequence of its passage occurs on the district level. Democrats currently hold seats in each of the two congressional districts, and the bill dictates that thousands of registered voters from the district of Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., would be incorporated into Cicilline’s district, while strongly GOP towns would become part of Langevin’s district.

The bill bodes tremendously well for Cicilline and his supporters, but it will hurt Langevin’s campaign toward re-election. Though the bill’s supporters claim it was designed to enhance minority voices in Rhode Island politics, it seems likely that it was intentionally designed to serve the best interests of Cicilline and his constituents. Several politicians have accused Cicilline of gerrymandering, or manipulating the boundaries of the districts in his favor. We believe it is unacceptable for lawmakers to pass legislation that deliberately panders to a politically powerful position or influence, especially when the legislation affects the voting public.

However, the issue reaches a broader perspective than gerrymandering. The state GOP, as marginalized as it already is, will lose even more influence and voters in Cicilline’s district due to redistricting. The bill is significantly less generous to Republicans and their voters, and it significantly boosts Cicilline’s re-election chances. Even though we may oppose many of the Republican Party’s views, Rhode Island will not benefit from a bill that, in essence, creates a more divisive attitude in an already partisan state. As history shows, political offices ultimately resemble despotism without formidable challengers to keep them in check. Although Cicilline is certainly no despot, it seems that he is willing to cross measures, and borders, in order to sustain his position. Given Cicilline’s recent track record, it is especially vital for a politically healthy Rhode Island that challengers always be granted the opportunity to question policy and offer other sensible options to the voting public.

Because Rhode Island is such a small state, the redistricting bill affects a sizeable number of Rhode Islanders, making it of crucial importance that the bill is carried out in a fair and egalitarian fashion. We have faith in the political process, and in spite of our political views, we concede the importance of the GOP in sustaining the state. We cannot support a redistricting bill that was conceived without the best interests of Rhode Island at heart.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.