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No signs of reform in redistricting

January 16, 2012
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

The Senate's Republican majority is slowly unveiling its plan to update legislative district lines based on 2010 census data, and so far it shows all the signs of being gerrymandered.

For those new to this topic, the problem is that in New York, unlike more enlightened states, legislative district lines are drawn by legislators themselves - specifically state senators, who have a long habit of skewing the boundaries to create safe havens where they can get re-elected easily. And they do; our state has an astounding rate of incumbents getting voted back in. It's a corrupt and anti-democratic system.

If further evidence is required, just look at the maps; there are some crazy-shaped districts there that clearly favor one party over another: for instance, snaky ones that link urban centers (with Democratic majorities) in odd ways and others that painstakingly avoid cities to gather huge rural swaths with mostly Republicans.

This time around, the process isn't even bipartisan. Despite all the bipartisan progress and subsequent back-patting in Albany this past year, this redistricting process has been old-school, in a bad way. Senate Republicans have kept Democrats out of the loop, seemingly bent on protecting their slim 32-30 majority. With such a blatant conflict of interest, they should never have been put in charge of this decision; it should be made by an independent panel, as is done in many other states and in Canada. That way, we could have districts that are trusted. This way, it's like having one team's coaches referee a sports game.

By now, senators stalled so long that even good-government advocates have given up on an independent redistricting commission this time around; they say it's too late to do things ethically in time for November's election. Now they're just pushing to make the senators' lines fair. Yet senators want to drag it out further, with more public expense, by convening a new round of statewide public hearings on top of a round held last year.

If they really want to know what people want, isn't it obvious people don't want politicians rigging the game to help themselves?

Thankfully, there is some momentum behind this reform movement, encouraged by Albany's positive advances of 2011. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has threatened to veto any redistricting plan that isn't fair, and he must hold to that promise.

Our region's state senator, Betty Little, is part of that Republican majority and did not criticize the Senate plan when the Enterprise asked her about it Thursday. Instead, she loosely supported the new Senate district and said she will wait to see the maps. That's disappointing; we hoped she'd call this plan out as inherently unjust. Her district isn't expected to change much, no matter how the lines are redrawn, so she could safely criticize the more selfish instincts of her party fellows. She missed an opportunity to be on the right side of history.



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