THE LONG RUN

The redistricting commission is set to formally recommend a plan to the General Assembly at its December 19 meeting. If it approves "Plan E," as expected, what does it all mean?

There is an argument to be made that, for all its dramatic sweep, redistricting will not fix Cicilline's fundamental problem: voters don't trust him. Indeed, his approach to the map-making process could add to his reputation for political manipulation.

His opponents are already trotting out versions of this charge. GOP candidate Doherty has called the maps "blatant political opportunism."

Cicilline's political team claims that it only did what all campaigns do: try to push redistricting in its favor. The argument may be tough to swallow, given the sheer size of the proposed change. But it may not matter.

Redistricting is, typically, of little concern to the average voter. And if Cicilline can weather the current controversy and best any Democratic rivals in a primary — adding south Providence to the district appears to help in that endeavor — a few thousand extra votes in his general election tilt with the Republican nominee could make a difference.

Of course, improving Democratic performance in Cicilline's district means, by definition, imposing a more conservative cast on Langevin's district. But Langevin has always been a moderate. And he's coasted to re-election. There is no reason to think he'll be in danger under the proposed new regime.

Of course, if he steps down, things change. In the right year, a reshaped Second Congressional District could be riper for GOP challenge. But that concern could soon be moot.

Brace, the state's redistricting consultant, says Rhode Island's slow population growth means it will likely lose one of its two House seats after the next census in 2020. Indeed, the state almost lost a seat this time around.

If Rhode Island winds up with a single district come 2022, Cicilline and Langevin — if they're both still around — could wind up in a head-to-head contest. It is, of course, impossible to predict this far out.

But the advantage would seem to be Cicilline's. In a Democratic primary, the more liberal candidate would have an edge. And if "Plan E" goes into effect, he could be working from a stronger Democratic base.

The expected contraction weakens the argument, a bit, for a present-day redistricting plan that would concentrate large numbers of minorities in a single district (the voting-age population in Cicilline's redrawn district would be 27 percent minority under "Plan E").

After all, one aim of such a district is the election of a minority Congressman; indeed, the Cicilline camp has highlighted that possibility in arguing for the new lines. But if Cicilline remains in office through the next census, there will be little opportunity for a Latino candidate to take the seat.

A high concentration of minorities would, of course, force the Congressman to be responsive to their needs. But Latino activists say Cicilline, to his credit, has always been responsive.

And there is considerable debate among voting rights activists across the country about whether packing minorities into a single district is the wisest course. After all, it dilutes their influence with other Congressmen.

There is, finally, the good government argument: why shift 125,000 voters around and disrupt relationships between Congressmen and local officials when a modest fix would have done the job?

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