Albany: Still Broken
The state legislature remained in session until around 4:30 am last night, passing a flurry of bills such as a Union-opposed Tier VI, a proposed Constitutional amendment to permit class III casino gaming on non-Indian lands (this requires a referendum which would come in November 2013 at the earliest), and – significantly – state legislative redistricting which led to a walkout by Senate Democrats.
From this Jimmy Vielkind piece, here’s why Albany is broken – legislators are puppets, not independent representatives of their constituents. Anyone who resists becomes marginalized and ineffective, and will seek to depart Albany as soon as humanly possible. (Make comparisons to A-145 at your leisure). Speaking of the Tier VI plan for state employees, one Democratic Assemblyman said,
“I don’t know if I’m in the tank,” one told me. “I’d like to vote no, but sometimes that’s not how it goes.”
So, it’s still broken this morning, as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow. Redistricting? It was a broken and hyperpartisan process, especially as it applies to the Senate, which had the gall to add a 63rd seat to Albany County. Why?
t is intended for Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, the wealthy head of an eponymous home-building company who, the hope is, will be able to finance his own campaign.
Earlier Wednesday, members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus condemned those lines as “an assault on the Voting Rights Act” because they fractured minority communities in Rochester and on Long Island,mirroring existing splits widely considered to be gerrymandering. (In the end, most of the Caucus’ 28 members in the Assembly supported the plan.)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had promised to veto “any redistricting plan in 2012 that reflects partisan gerrymandering.” But he has reversed himself, laying the groundwork in recent months to accept somewhat stinky lines so long as they were accompanied by a constitutional amendment and statute that changes the process for the future. This will, laudibly, theoretically, produce a better process — in a decade. The problem is it wasn’t a clean trade in the eyes of some, including Senate Democrats, and good-government groups split on the agreed-to proposal.
Dealmaking is all part of politics, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the people to benefit elected officials. We get 10 more years of gerrymandered incumbent protection in exchange for reform in 2022. Kicking the ball ever-further down the road.
The only real procedural difference from the status quo is that sitting legislators would not directly draw the lines — although their children and business partners would be eligible — and that minority parties would have somewhat more say.
Still, incumbent politicians would rule the roost — and could all too easily gang up against voters for their mutual benefit.
Also, the amendment fails to require that all districts be roughly the same size — a necessity for upholding the principle of one person, one vote.
As things work now, Senate Republicans deliberately underpopulate districts in Republicans areas upstate while overpopulating them in Democrat-heavy New York City — thus giving the GOP a disproportionate share of seats. Democrats do much the same in the Assembly.
The amendment would let that obvious abuse continue, demanding only that mapmakers explain themselves in writing.
The proposal also missed the chance to repeal an arcane and archaic clause that calls for periodically adding new Senate seats — which Republicans have repeatedly exploited for partisan advantage…
…But the final straw is the maps voters would be saddled with for the next decade. Prodded by Cuomo to make their lines “less hyperpartisan,” the Legislature put out revised maps yesterday that failed to meet even that rock-bottom standard.
You still had grotesque shapes like the 29th Senate District, which stretches from the South Bronx, through Harlem and across Central Park to Manhattan’s West Side — and looks something like the Starship Enterprise.
And you still had gross population disparities, with most upstate Senate district nearly 5% below the average and downstate districts 3% or 4% on the plus side.
To be sure, this deal — lousy as it is — may be the last chance for gerrymandering reform of any kind for generations to come. Good-government groups are bitterly divided over whether the deal is worth taking — with the Citizens Union and the League of Women Voters in support, and Common Cause and the New York Public Interest Research Group coming down against.
It’s sad to see well-intentioned people take shots at one another when the real villain is the reform-allergic Legislature.
Still, the opponents are right. Cuomo cannot sign this mess — not when his veto would throw redistricting into the courts. Not when those courts have already shown — in drawing congressional maps for lack of a plan from the Legislature — that they can do a far better and fairer job than lawmakers ever will.
In case you were wondering, Albany is still broken, and it’s still a cesspool of self-interest and dirty dealing. I expected better from Mario’s kid.