The backroom dealing that helped define Albany as dysfunctional for so many years reared up again this past week as Gov. Andrew Cuomo huddled with top lawmakers to strike a bargain on redistricting that won’t see the light of day for at least a decade — maybe.
And if it does, it’s a bad plan because it’s nothing more than a smoke-and-mirrors scheme that really keeps redistricting power in the hands of the lawmakers.
Taxpayers should be outraged. They need to tell state leaders that this is not acceptable and insist on something better.
Furthermore, tell them that this whole process should be transparent — not cobbled behind closed doors under the cover of night.
On Thursday, Cuomo and lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment that would create a 10-member commission responsible for the once-a-decade redistricting process.
In doing so, Cuomo caved in on a campaign pledge to veto partisan lines and instead, he and legislators approved gerrymandered lines drawn by the Senate and Assembly majorities. Most of them, too, had pledged during the last election campaign to support redistricting by an independent panel.
Adding insult to injury, the plan was conceived in secret, a throwback to the bad old days of dysfunction — and done during Sunshine Week, no less, when we’re supposed to be celebrating open government.
Cuomo and lawmakers played down their broken promises by touting the constitutional amendment. It would put off the independent redistricting process until after the 2020 federal census. But even that’s no guarantee. To become law, the amendment must be passed by the next separately elected Legislature, in either 2013 or 2014, and then approved by voters in a referendum. A lot could happen between now and then to derail the plan.
Meanwhile, taxpayers in many voting districts are left twisting in the wind because the new lines recently drawn by the Assembly and Senate have been approved as part of the deal.
In Oneida County, the Senate lines stay pretty much intact, but the Assembly districts are carved up like a jigsaw puzzle. That’s a huge injustice to taxpayers here, who’ll be represented by an assortment of lawmakers and could, as County Executive Anthony Picente says, “make our people unsure who their representative it.”
Even impartial observers couldn’t ignore the absurdity of the Assembly plan. Joshua Simons, a research associate at SUNY New Paltz, called it “an abomination,” saying that it looks as though pieces of the county had been used to fill out population quotas for the districts that surround it.
This whole process is flawed, and many details are still emerging regarding how the “independent” panel would be chosen. Selection of members would still be under the purview of the governor and legislators, and the Legislature would have the opportunity to approve or reject the commission’s lines. If it rejects the plan twice, the process goes back to the Legislature.
In such a case, the Legislature could draw the lines — and if amended into the state constitution, that’d be the law. Heaven forbid.
Tell Albany this whole thing is a sham. They need to try again.