How a redistricting nip-tuck would redraw Burrillville politicsDecember 9th, 2011 at 6:00 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site
Step aside, Trillomander – there’s a new redistricting move raising eyebrows in Rhode Island.
“House C” – the long-awaited proposed map for the Rhode Island House that may be a preview of Monday’s final product – would make a number of noteworthy changes, among them the placement of Democratic Reps. Charlene Lima and John Carnevale in the same district along the Providence-Cranston border.
Just as striking is what House C would do in the quiet northwestern corner of the state. A few nips and tucks in Burrillville and Glocester would turn the political dynamics of District 47 upside down, to the likely benefit of State Rep. Cale Keable, the first-term Democrat who narrowly held the seat after Party Chairman Ed Pacheco retired.
Take a look at the map. The white line shows the current boundaries of District 47, which is bounded by two Republican-held seats: to the east, House Minority Leader Brian Newberry’s District 48, and to the south, Rep. Mike Chippendale’s District 40. The brown shading shows Plan C’s proposed new boundaries of District 48:
As the map shows, the new District 47 would jettison Glocester’s Republican-leaning Harmony section and put the whole district in Burrillville, with one important exception – that tiny slice of Glocester in the center around the Pascoag Reservoir, where Keable owns property and is a familiar, well-liked presence.
“What he’s done there is he’s taken all his friends that he has on the Glocester side and incorporated them in,” said Donald Fox, the Republican who lost to Keable by just 196 votes last November and is planning to challenge him again in 2012.
Actually, make that was planning to challenge him again in 2012 – because the new District 47 also draws Fox out of it. He lives in the southeastern corner of Burrillville that’s now purple on the map. That puts him a few hundred yards inside Republican Newberry’s revised District 48, which gained residents and actually needed to shrink.
“This is probably one of the most blatant examples of insider peddling of favors that I’ve seen, and I’ve lived in Rhode Island all my life,” Fox said Thursday. “I thought I’d seen a lot of things, but I guess it’s just another reason why people are so disillusioned with how things are run in this state.”
Keable, unsurprisingly, takes a different view. He acknowledges he offered the redistricting committee suggestions about how they should redraw his constituency, but defended the version envisioned in House C, saying the area around Pascoag Reservoir is “clearly a community” of its own despite encompassing two different towns.
“I enjoy representing part of Glocester, and I think Burrillville and Glocester, given where they are geographically, have some common connection, and it makes sense for the representative to have some of both,” Keable said.
Keable argued the current District 47 itself is the “funky-looking” product of gerrymandering by former State Rep. Scott Rabideau, who held the seat from 1994 to 2002 and made sure it dipped into the northeastern part of Glocester to pick up more GOP votes.
“If anything, this is a much more square and geographically pleasing district to look at,” Keable said. “It’s de-gerrymandering it. … It makes more sense, this district does, and it’s squarer. It’s more pleasing to the eye.”
That’s not to say Keable is home free even if House C’s version of District 47 becomes law. Republicans hope another potential candidate – perhaps Rabideau himself or Town Councilman David Place – could win the seat from Keable next year even if Fox is barred from a rematch.
Fox, for his part, says he’s considering legal action in that scenario. But Keable argued this is how the game is played.
“Redistricting is a political process,” the incumbent said. “It is what it is.”
• Related: Why you should care about Rhode Island’s redistricting fight (Dec. 5)