Last Wednesday leaders of the Rhode Island General Assembly appointed members to a commission that’s charged with redrawing the political boundaries of our state for the next decade. The creation of fair and just political boundaries – State Senate and House districts – is key in making sure our democracy represents the interests of the people, not those with political influence and power.

But if redistricting is controlled by those already in power, then our political landscape is liable to gerrymandering, destroying the integrity of our electoral process and undermining the democratic values of our state and nation.

Just like how Republicans in Texas are trying to pass legislation to suppress Democratic voters, the establishment conservative Democrats in power at the State House are using the redistricting commission to tip the 2022 elections in their favor, before campaigning even begins.

Of the 18 members appointed to the redistricting commission, all were chosen by the majority and minority leaders of the Rhode Island House and Senate. Of the 18 members appointed to the redistricting commission, half, nine members, were chosen by my opponent in the 2020 District 4 State Senate election, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.

The senate president is a creature of the General Assembly. He has been in office for over 30 years, and is intimately familiar with the inner-workings of redistricting. Now, he has directly appointed half of the members of this new redistricting committee, and holds immense power over their findings. Isn’t it already clear– unless we, the people of Rhode Island, take action – what the outcome will be?

The power of Ruggerio and the General Assembly over redistricting is like a tennis player redrawing the lines of the court while the ball is in mid-air. Both players– well-connected establishment politicians like Ruggerio and new, working-class candidates like myself – seem to be fighting it out on the same court, but one side is able to transform the very landscape we play on.

If Ruggerio, with all of his power over the commission, tries to manipulate the political boundaries of District 4 to increase his changes in the 2022 election, it’s a sign that he can redraw the political map across the entire state. That’s a level of legalized corruption that should not be tolerated within our state, and will prevent the voices of working-class people from rebuilding Rhode Island.

Instead, the redistricting commission should center community voices from each legislative district. I propose that we redistrict the State Senate boundaries, but with a minimum of two State Representatives within each district. This will create a more equal distribution of representatives to senators.

But if we are to prevent the long term well-connected legislators up at the Statehouse from controlling the political playing field, we need to take action now. Contact your senator or representative, the current General Assembly leaders included, to ask for a redistricting process that is fair and independent from those who currently control the General Assembly.

If we don’t, then our political playing field will be manipulated by the well-connected into a vehicle for their continued power.

Lenny Cioe

North Providence

2020 candidate for State Senate District 4 and registered nurse

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