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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Charlestown voters will see different names on their 2012 ballots

Redistricting affects Charlestown’s state Senators and Representatives more than any other South County town.
This is the OLD House district map
By Will Collette

When the General Assembly reconvenes in January, they will be presented with new maps defining the state’s political districts. Every ten years, in the year after a national Census, the maps must be re-drawn so that they all contain the same number of people.

Charlestown was one of the only towns in South County to lose a major number of people (the only other town to experience a population decline in our are was Narragansett and by a smaller percentage). All of the other towns gained in population. These gains and loses pretty much guaranteed some serious district line shifting.

But Charlestown’s two Senators, Republicans Dennis Algiere and Francis Maher, and two Representatives, Democrats Donna Walsh and Larry Valencia, saw their districts undergo some major surgery. In this article, I will focus on the House districts. I will cover the Senate changes later this week.

Before getting into those details, here’s a run-down on what happened to the other South County House districts. NOTE: in the state House of Representatives, South County’s reps are Districts 31 through 39.

Doreen Costa
Taking the districts in numerical order, of South County’s nine Representatives, the most conservative member is Rep. Doreen Costa (District 31) who ran as both the Tea Party and Republican candidate. She is in her first term.

She is also one of the most controversial members of the House and earned her reputation early through her surprise success in getting the House to pass a resolution banning the use of the term “holiday tree” in place “Christmas Tree.” This non-binding resolution was largely ignored until Governor Lincoln Chafee followed Gov. Don Carcieri’s example of using the expression “holiday tree.” That won another 15 minutes of fame for Costa.

The major change in Costa’s district is the addition of traditionally Democratic Quonset and Davisville. Much of her district is already traditionally Democratic, so she may find that her first term is also her last term.

She picks up Quonset/Davisville from Republican Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt (District 32). Although Ehrhardt has represented that district in the House since 2004, I couldn’t pick him out of a line-up and could find no noteworthy legislation in his name. I have no idea whether it will make any difference to his continued tenure in the House to give up Quonset/Davisville.

In District 33 is Democratic Rep. Donald Lally. Lally is another house member who doesn’t project a particularly large shadow. He picks up a good chunk of South Kingstown north of Wakefield and gives up a chunk of Exeter. For him, that’s a good swap, since Exeter tends Republican and South Kingstown tends Democratic.

Teresa Tanzi, with daughter Delia and Senator Whitehouse
District 34 is represented by first-term solid progressive Democrat Rep. Teresa Tanzi. Her district lost population in the census, so she needed to add people, and gets them by pretty much getting most of Wakefield, which is Democratic territory.

Democratic Rep. Spencer Dickenson represents District 35. He’s the one who is donating Democratic Wakefield to boost the population in Teresa Tanzi’s (D-34), but he picks up Worden Pond Road and Snug Harbor from Donna Walsh (D-36). There are some good Democrats on Worden Pond Road.

Skipping Donna Walsh (D-36) for a moment, Westerly Democratic Rep. Sam Azzinaro’s District 37 stays very much the same, with the exception of picking up Shelter Harbor (RISC’s stronghold) from Donna Walsh. Otherwise, Sam’s solid Democratic bases in Westerly make his re-election prospect look bright.

Democratic Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy’s rural Hopkinton district remains largely unchanged, except for ceding the northern strip to Larry Valencia. He is also in a safe district.

Donna Walsh
Progressive Democrats Donna Walsh (D-36) and Larry Valencia (D-39) face the biggest changes. I’ve already noted above where their colleagues either gave or took pieces of territory to Larry or Donna, but if you look at it purely from a Charlestown perspective, the changes are profound.

For one thing, under the approved House map, Larry no longer presents Charlestown. Larry and Donna had been splitting Charlestown, north and south, respectively, but the district boundary for Donna has been pushed north, and pushes Larry out of town.

To the west, Donna’s District 36 gives up Shelter Harbor and to the east, she gives up Worden Pond and Snug Harbor. Charlestown has always been Donna’s home and political home base, and Charlestown voters have rewarded her with wide margins.

Larry Valencia
Rep. Larry Valencia is in his first-term. He barely held on to win his seat and did so by winning in Charlestown by a large margin. There is no sugar-coating the demographics that show the new map is not to his advantage.

Fortunately, Larry worked hard for his district. He won a prestigious seat on the House Finance Committee and worked hard for a fairer tax system that rolled back some of the tax give-aways that the Carcieri administration made to Rhode Island’s 1%.

Larry is a firm believer in progressive taxation, as he said when he courageously defended the Charlestown Democrats’ $1000 Homestead Tax Credit at the December 12 Town Council meeting.

Even though he will no longer represent Charlestown, I hope readers will remember how well Larry served our town and the state and will continue to support him.

NEXT: The Senate map also shapes up South County politics

The new district map for the Rhode Island House