Drawing lines in the sand

Okay, I admit it. I’ve been writing columns, teaching students and opining on radio and television for years about the evils of gerrymandering. It is infuriating to me that congressional and legislative districts are drawn by self-serving, despotic, professional politicians who do not allow a fair fight in elections. You cannot dispute the fact that when the controlling party draws the district lines, they can essentially dictate who wins and who loses. When Texas Republicans took control of the legislature in that state, they practically wiped out the Democrats in Congress. As Casey Stengel used to say, “You could look it up.”

You don’t have to go any further than New York to understand how it works. New York has a lot more Democrats than Republicans. Theoretically, they should hold the majority in both houses of the legislature. The problem for the Democrats is that the Republicans are in a very, very slight majority in the Senate. As a result, they kneel before the Great Computer and say, “Oh, Great Computer, draw me districts in which we will win and the Democrats will lose.” Then comes the reply from the computer, “Yes, master, we moved all the bodies around digitally until we figured out how to make you the winners and the Democrats the losers.”

The problem for the Republicans is that recently the Great Computer has been talking back and making strange noises. It has been heard to say to the Republican leaders, “Sorry, boss, we just don’t have enough bodies to move around.” As a result, even though they have loaded the game, the Democrats have actually taken control a few times, only to make fools of themselves by electing some thieves and despots of their own. When there is a presidential election and the Democrats turn out, the Republicans can no longer win. When a Democrat runs for president, so many Democrats will turn out that the Senate will turn Democratic and the Republicans will be in the minority.

This probably doesn’t sit all that well with Democratic Governor Cuomo who has demonstrated any number of times that he wants the Republicans in control for his own self-serving political reasons. It should probably be pointed out that there are many Democrats in the Assembly where they are the majority who won’t be all that comfortable when and if this whole thing is done legitimately. That’s because some of them would lose the lines that keep them in power.

This brings us to the Supreme Court which has just ruled that the people of a state have the right to change the rules to allow an OUTSIDE group to draw the lines. The people of Arizona voted to allow a group of outsiders to draw up the district lines and the legislature sued, saying that only they had the right to draw the lines. In the old days, the Supreme Court would have seen this as a matter of states’ rights and stayed out of what they called “The political thicket.” But now, perhaps understanding that this monkey business perverts and undermines the government, the Court has taken a new position. That’s absolutely the way it should be done.

Having campaigned on that very issue, Cuomo knows his position is indefensible. Despite that, he has permitted the anti-democratic procedure to go on. He did that by agreeing to a procedure that would allow an outside group, appointed by the legislature, to draw the lines with the caveat that if the legislature didn’t like the results they could change them. That is the way it stands. It’s disgusting, it’s anti-democratic and it’s morally, intellectually and ethically indefensible. It’s important for us to remember that we send our kids to foreign countries to “…fight for democracy” but here at home, we allow politicians to draw lines so that they can’t lose. Unbelievable.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/13/15
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