Every decade, once the federal census is complete, boundaries for State Assembly and State Senate districts are redrawn to reflect shifts in New York's population. The Majorities in the state Legislature control this process, also known as "redistricting," or "reapportionment" with one goal in mind: preserving their political power. The result is a highly politicized process where boundaries are drawn favoring whichever party has a majority in each house. Unfortunately, clinging to political power is the name of the game in Albany - even at the expense of good government.
CURRENT REDISTRICTING PROCESS IS A "RIGGED GAME"
The current redistricting process is a clear-cut example of Albany walking the razor's edge of political corruption - and a vivid reminder why voters have become so disillusioned with their state government. When Albany political bosses and backroom deals dominate the redistricting process - and districts are redrawn giving one party a distinct advantage - voters are denied fair and competitive elections. Simply put, when elections become a rigged game, democracy loses.
Our representative democracy is too important to fall prey to Albany's petty partisan politics. Since our nation's founding, thousands of American patriots have risked - and given - their lives to preserve our democratic principles. Fair and competitive elections cannot be an afterthought, they must be a core principle when it comes to redistricting. I believe we should scrap the current redistricting system and take partisan politics - along with any concerns about preserving majorities - out of the equation. Drawing Assembly and Senate district boundaries without concern for politics will ensure elections are 100 percent fair and competitive. Trust in the voters to make the right choice and let the chips fall where they may.
"YES!" TO AN INDEPENDENT LEGISLATIVE REDISTRICTING COMMISSION
In order to achieve this important goal, I have long championed the creation of an Independent "Legislative Redistricting Commission," to draw Assembly and Senate lines in a completely non-partisan, non-political manner. Having an independent panel draw all 150 Assembly and 62 Senate districts without giving either major political party an edge would go a long way toward taking politics out of redistricting and restoring some much-needed credibility and fairness to the process.
MY RECOMMENDATIONS TO MAKE GOVERNOR CUOMO'S REDISTRICTING LEGISLATION A BETTER BILL
Governor Cuomo recently introduced legislation that mirrors my long-time support for establishing an Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission to help remove partisan politics from this process. The Governor's program bill, the "Redistricting Reform Act," is a welcome addition to this discussion and represents a serious effort from the Executive Branch to fix the system. While I support many parts of the Governor's proposal, we respectfully suggest a few key improvements. On Friday, February 25, I sent Governor Cuomo and my fellow Legislative Leaders in state government a letter outlining specific modifications to make the Governor's legislation a better bill. My recommendations called for the following:
Provide No Advantage to Any Political Party or Branch of Government: We must make certain that a Redistricting Commission does not provide any advantage to either major political party, and that both the Legislative and Executive Branches have an equal say on the Commission and its composition;
Ensure Geographic Balance: Long Island, the North Country and Southern Tier should serve as locations for redistricting public hearings to ensure this process provides a true geographic balance of New York State; and
Follow the Constitution: Ensure that prison inmates are counted where they are presently incarcerated, as our State Constitution requires.
I am advocating that these recommendations be considered and included as part of any final redistricting bill, and I will gladly co-sponsor the measure and support its passage.
A LONE VOICE IN THE ALBANY WILDERNESS ON REDISTRICTING REFORM
Our Assembly Minority Conference and I will not take a backseat to anyone on the issue of fixing our broken state government; we were for reform long before reform was "cool." In fact, for the past several years, we have been the lone voice in the Albany wilderness calling for creation of an Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission. I have continually pushed for the establishment of just such a Commission as part of my continued advocacy for a non-partisan, grassroots "People's Constitutional Convention" to reform state government.
In 2010, I was proud to be named a "Hero of Reform" by former New York City Mayor Ed Koch and the good government group "New York Uprising" for my strong support of non-partisan redistricting reform, among other things. I am pleased that other elected officials seem to have finally discovered the importance of fixing New York's broken redistricting process - as the saying goes, "better late than never." It is my hope that 2011 will be the year our state enacts true redistricting reform that takes partisan politics out of the process to provide the fair and competitive elections that New Yorkers deserve and our democracy demands.
As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and informational updates regarding state government and our Assembly Minority Conference.