Stick to your guns, Gov. Cuomo

The people of New York are sick and tired of the majority party in both houses of the Legislature drawing their own districts. That, as I have always said, is like allowing a Steinbrenner to umpire the Yankee games. It just isn’t fair.

It is time for an outside group to do this job. Until that happens, the leaders of the two majority parties will turn to their computers and their expert “map” personnel and tell them to draw districts where they can’t lose. They will draw districts that look like alligators and hand bags and snakes. The districts will jump rivers and mountains and will put as many members of the minority party in a single district so as to dilute their power in other districts where a fair process might have given them a chance. This is not why we send our kids to foreign countries to fight for democracy.

The whole thing is a disgrace. Whether Governor Andrew Cuomo has the guts to turn his expressed conviction on this gerrymandering into reality is known only to him. We can only hope that he doesn’t make some kind of deal with the Legislature that allows this disgraceful practice to continue. Cuomo made such a deal on ethics reform. He got a lot of credit for what he did achieve but when he had the chance he didn’t go all the way. The governor should go for the whole enchilada and should not make any halfway solutions. He has said that he will veto any deal that the Legislature does unless they agree to an outside panel to draw the lines. Of course, who sits on such a panel will be the big question. Nevertheless, at least it won’t be the members of the Republican Party in the Senate and the Democratic Party in the Assembly that will be drawing their own lines. The public will also be watching whether bums and hacks are put on such an outside group.

Something interesting happened last week that may show us where things are headed. The legislative-led group responsible for coming up with the final lines made a good decision about how to count incarcerated prisoners in our state prisons, most of whom are in upstate New York where Republicans often have the edge. The Republicans wanted the prisoners counted in their districts even though most of the prisoners came from the New York City area. Naturally, the Democrats wanted the prisoners counted from their home addresses. For the brief time that the Democrats were the majority in both houses of the Legislature they passed a law saying that prisoners be counted at their home addresses. That gave the edge to the city and left fewer bodies upstate for the purposes of drawing the legislative districts. We all know that the prisoners should be counted at their home addresses and even the Republicans on the panel agreed. They know the heat is on. Therein lies the problem. To get the heat off, the Legislature will draw districts in a less disgraceful manner than in the past, hoping that when the heat goes down that they will be able to go back to the bad old days.

If Cuomo looks at what they come up with he should stick to his guns and veto the bill. Then the matter will go the courts and the judges will draw the lines. At least that is better than allowing the legislators to do it for themselves. Shelly Silver, the powerful speaker, should go along. There are many more Democrats in the State and any fair plan will leave him in the catbird seat. Of course, some of the Democrats who owe their seats to the creative way that Shelly’s people draw the lines will lose. Good. That’s the way it should be. As it is now, the game is fixed.

As for the Republicans, they may just learn that they have to play by democratic rules.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/8/11

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