Chairman Bill Samuels: Statement Against the Cuomo Redistricting Amendment speaking at the Rockefeller Institute Conference on Constitutional Change
In a speech given today at a conference at the Rockefeller Institute which debated the forthcoming constitutional amendments on expanding Casino Gambling and Redistricting Reform, Bill Samuels, Founder, New Roosevelt and Co-Founder, EffectiveNY, advocated that the legislature should not pass for a second time the current redistricting reform amendment:
“When the state legislature reconvenes in Albany next January it is crucial that lawmakers reject the redistricting reform amendment scheduled to be taken up during the 2013 session. And if the legislature does pass, for a second time, the amendment and it is put before the voters on the ballot next November, there should be a concerted statewide campaign to defeat it.
“Because this amendment, which is the handiwork of Governor Cuomo, Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver, takes us backwards not forwards in terms of transformative redistricting reform.
“In fact, the amendment, which Governor Cuomo said “will permanently reform the redistricting process in New York to once and for all end self-interested and partisan gerrymandering,” achieves quite the opposite by institutionalizing partisan redistricting in the state constitution. It is a fatally flawed amendment for a variety of reasons and must be defeated.
“First, the equation to determine the number of state senate seats in 2020 relies on an outdated methodology from 1894. That methodology requires the legislature, gives the party in control the choice of three different mathematical routes to arrive at the conclusion it prefers. This year, they combined Suffolk County with Staten Island, while simultaneously eliminating Queens and Nassau Counties to arrive at the 63 seat make up of the State Senate. While this is legal, it is not reform and certainly should not be enshrined in the state constitution. The Cuomo-Skelos-Silver Redistricting Reform Amendment would make this grossly outdated methodology a part of the state constitution.
“Second, the stated purpose of redistricting reform is to take the legislature and the politics out of the process of drawing legislative districts. The Cuomo-Skelos-Silver Redistricting Reform Amendment does the exact opposite and will invite gridlock, ultimately placing the job of drawing legislative districts back into the hands of the politicians.
“As Professor Gerald Benjamin points out in his astute analysis of the redistricting amendment, ‘the commission will have an even number of members (10), an invitation to deadlock. All appointing authorities are partisan-based. There is no domination by a single party, but there remains total domination by the legislative parties – the parties at interest.
“Additionally, new quorum requirements written into the constitution for the commission allow a unified group of partisans to prevent any action simply by not showing up.’ It means that either party—Democrat or Republican—can actively decide not to participate, thereby denying action on a plan.
“Even if a plan makes it out of the Commission, either party in the legislature could decide to vote it down.
“And after two unsuccessful votes, the job to draw lines reverts back to the legislature. Simply put, the Cuomo-Skelos-Silver Amendment actually solidifies a partisan grip on the redistricting process instead of eliminating it in the state constitution.
“Lastly, the newly created 63rd district is now at the very heart of the battle to see which political party will have control of the state senate in the next legislative session. In a race which Governor Cuomo refused to endorse the Democratic candidate Cecilia F. Tkaczyk, much to the chagrin of state activists, there are less than a two hundred votes separating her from opponent Republican George A. Amedore Jr.
“Ironically it is this race that will decide who controls the state senate and with it the potential fate of redistricting reform, campaign finance reform and a host of other important legislative and constitutional issues.
“For these reasons, the legislature or, eventually, the people of New York State must reject this redistricting amendment. We can do better on reform in New York.”