THE ISSUE New York’s state and congressional districts will be redrawn next year.
OUR VIEW As elected officials have proven time and again, this is no job for them.
As per the U.S. and state constitutions, next year begins a process that will rework both congressional and state legislative districts. It’s time our leaders also begin to rework the highly partisan politics that limit the effectiveness of this process.
The results of the 2010 Census count will be used to reapportion seats and then to redraw district lines. In Congress, New York state is likely to lose one congressional seat, maybe two. And in the state Legislature, lines will be reworked to reflect population shifts that include downstate growth and upstate losses.
In recent decades, this has been a process fraught with politics, amounting to an Incumbent Protection Program, as districts are drawn to be either heavily Democratic or heavily Republican.
Real competition of candidates and ideas is nearly nonexistent in both the House of Representatives and in the state Legislature, and that is a major factor in why the quality of our government has diminished over the past few decades.
What’s the answer? The state should create an independent, nonpartisan body to reconfigure the state’s congressional and legislative districts. Of course, that will never happen unless state legislators act beyond their own self-interest and consider the greater good of the state. And they do not have a history of such action.
Congressional and state legislative incumbents are re-elected with remarkable regularity, and often against zero or token opposition. This is largely because districts are drawn like horseshoes to pick up as many rural Republican votes as possible and miss urban independent and Democratic voters. Other districts in larger cities focus on mainly minority neighborhoods, making them skew toward the Democrats. Rep. Michael Arcuri, D-Utica, represents constituents in Ontario County, which is an easy drive to Rochester. Does that make sense for a Utica-based lawmaker? State Sen. Dale Volker’s district borders Lake Erie, yet he also represents Gorham.
The result is voter-proof conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats who barely speak to each other in Washington and Albany.
The result is incumbents in Albany who bow to lobbyists instead of to their constituents, who are nearly powerless to vote them out because they rarely see a good alternative on the ballot.
And, unfortunately for the public, that means gridlock instead of progress.
In the past, Democratic Sen. David Valesky, D-Oneida, has supported a bill that would create a nonpartisan commission to redraw district lines. It lingers in committee. A similar bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Michael N. Gianaris, D-Queens, also is stuck in committee.
If Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the most powerful man in Albany these days, wants to be remembered as anything other than a crafty pol, he would be wise to become the driving force to create an independent redistricting body charged with creating more competitive and logically drawn districts.