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R.I. Rep. Cicilline gets help in contentious redistricting battle

at 09:46 AM ET, 12/20/2011

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) is a little safer under a congressional map proposed by the state’s redistricting commission late Monday, but not as safe as he could have been.

And the embattled congressman has got his colleague to thank for that.

Rhode Island, despite having just two congressional districts, has undergone what has been one of the more contentious and openly hostile redistricting battles in the country.

Cicilline and fellow Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin have been at odds over what the map should look like, with Langevin accusing line-drawers of moving Democrats into Cicilline’s district in order to inoculate him from a competitive race in what should already be a very safe district.

In the end, the state’s redistricting commission voted Monday night to recommend a map with less drastic changes that still helps Cicilline somewhat.

Here’s a recap of what’s happened in Rhode Island (where politics are ALWAYS interesting):

Cicilline is the former mayor of Providence, and he used that as a springboard to win his congressional seat in 2010.

But despite coming from a district that President Obama won with 65 percent of the vote in 2008, Cicilline won with just 51 percent last year, and his problems have only increased since then, as his management of financially troubled Providence has continued to dog him.

A recent poll showed just 23 percent of his constituents rated his job performance as either “excellent” or “good,” and he faces the winner of a primary between two pretty formidable Republicans (considering Rhode Island isn’t exactly a GOP hotbed) in 2010 opponent John Loughlin and former state police superintendent Brendan Doherty.

Perhaps sensing trouble ahead, the line-drawers appointed by the Democratic-controlled state assembly proposed a map that moved more than 120,000 voters from Langevin’s district into Cicilline’s district, making Cicilline’s already heavily Democratic seat even safer.

This despite the fact that population shifts dictated that less than 8,000 voters needed to shift between the two districts, and also despite the fact that both Cicilline and Langevin had signed a letter urging a status quo map.

The problem with shifting Democrats into Cicilline’s district is that Langevin’s district is already the more competitive of the two – at least on paper – and moving more Democrats into Cicilline’s district would make things tougher on Langevin, who is rumored to potentially face either Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian (R) or Cranston Mayor Allan Fung (R).

(Of course, it should be noted that Langevin’s district is a 61 percent Obama district, and the incumbent has never been seriously threatened. So it’s not like the district would be all that competitive.)

It has been suggested that the shifts were necessary to increase the voice of minority voters in Cicilline’s district, but Langevin and Republicans have suggested a political power play.

“All we had to do is move 7,200 voters, and instead we’re moving 75,000. Do you think it’s intentional? I do,” commission member and state Rep. Joseph Trillo (R) told AP.

Langevin came out against the proposed plan last week, and he appeared to get some concessions in a revised plan issued before the weekend. In the new plan, which the commission voted Monday to send to the general assembly, Cicilline still gets help at Langevin’s expense, but the swap is about 75,000 voters rather than 120,000.

Even with the new map, though, it’s clear Langevin isn’t excited.

“I think the commission got to hear pretty clearly the concerns that were out there, and they made their decision,” Langevin spokesman Jonathon Dworkin said. “There is really nothing more to add to what has been said.”

According to performance numbers obtained by The Fix, by dropping Burrillville and swapping certain parts of Providence with Langevin, Cicilline’s 1st district moves from a 65 percent Obama district to one that would have gone 66 percent for the president, shifting more than 1 percent in Obama’s favor. Langevin’s 2nd district, meanwhile, drops from a 61 percent Obama district to one that would have gone about 60 percent for the president.

The state has veto-proof Democratic majorities in the state assembly, so even if independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee took issue with the plan (which seems unlikely), he probably wouldn’t be able to stop it.

In the end, Republicans’ quest to win in a very tough district just became tougher, and Cicilline looks like he will have a chance to stay in Congress for a long time, in spite of his personal problems.

 
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