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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Many Charlestown voters will have new state Senate choices on 2012 ballot

Redistricting changes affect South County Senators
Out with the old....
By Will Collette

Five Rhode Island Senate districts (#s 34 through 38) encompass South County, compared to nine House Districts. Currently, South County is represented by three Republicans (Francis Maher, Dawson Tucker Hodgson and Dennis Algiere) and two Democrats (James Sheehan and Sue Sosnowski).

All five districts will be changed significantly by census-driven redistricting. Redistricting is not just an exercise in arithmetic, but also politics. The law requires districts to be redrawn every ten years after each new census to equalize the population.

Some of the line changes may affect the re-election prospects of the incumbents.

Taking the districts in order, we start with second-term Republican Frank Maher (District 34) who has a huge rural district that included the northeastern corner of Charlestown. Under the new Senate map, Maher will more than double his share of Charlestown, with his district including every north of a rough line drawn along the northern edge of Watchaug Pond. He also gains a big chunk of West Greenwich. I don’t know what Frank Maher has done in his first term that has been worthy of note, other than gaining a seat on the Redistricting Commission that drew this new map.

District 35 is represented by another first-term Republican Dawson Tucker Hodgson. He seems even more low-profile than Maher. He did not answer the bi-partisan Project Vote Smart survey on key issues. The NRA likes him and awarded him a B+ rating. His new district map has him strung out north-south from East Greenwich to Point Judith.

James Sheehan, District 36, is a scion of an established family of Democratic power brokers. He has served since 2000. His new district lines are much more compact and easier to defend with population centers in Narragansett, Quonset/Davisville and Wickford, all part of his old district.

Sen. Sue Sosnowski with US Senator Sheldon
Whitehouse at a Charlestown event
Sue Sosnowski, District 37, also gets a more compact, easier to defend district out of the redistricting process. Sue is a Democrat and a working family farmer. She has worked hard in the last session of the General Assembly to help preserve Rhode Island’s fishing industry and is a big promoter of the “buy local” movement for farm products and sea food.

She works closing with Rep. Donna Walsh because they both represent Block Island. Sue and Donna were major supporters of the Deepwater Wind Farm project that may become the first operational offshore system in the US. Her new district’s main population centers are Wakefield and URI.

Finally, we come to District 38, which has been represented by moderate Republican Dennis Algiere since 1992. Once a Democrat, Algiere is part of that dying breed of Republicans who can be reasonable on social justice, women’s rights and the environment.

Under the new Senate map, Algiere retains his stronghold of Westerly in its entirety. However, he gives up about half of his current holdings in Charlestown to Frank Maher.

He adds a lot of new territory carved out of Sue Sosnowski’s district – a long swath of land running east along the south side of Route One to Potter’s Pond. Algiere was popular in the hunk of Charlestown he loses and is an unknown in the swath of South Kingstown he gains.

But since he keeps his powerbase in Westerly, I believe his district is still safe, barring a strong challenger who can cut into his Westerly constituency.

As was the case with the new House of Representatives map, many Charlestown voters will have new choices ahead of them in November 2012.

....and in with the new.