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About That Pledge…

Senate Republicans make it clear that they aren’t interested in independent redistricting

by Jason Chura on March 3, 2011 · 1 comment

From a dais packed with figures from throughout state government, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch solemnly delivered news of his meeting earlier that day with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau County) to the gathered press and supporters; the results “ain’t too good.”
“[Skelos] is not going to honor his commitment . . . to support the redistricting pledge that he made,” said Koch.
The founder of NY Uprising came to Albany on Tuesday to confront Skelos about his failure to act on the bill proposed Feb. 17 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that would establish an independent, nonpartisan redistricting committee. The meeting coincided with the March 1 deadline Koch had given legislators who signed the NY Uprising pledge to co-sponsor the bill lest they be deemed “Enemies of Reform” by his organization.

Many legislators from across the state signed the pledge during the 2010 campaign season, promising to support independent redistricting, a responsible budget, and ethics reform. All 32 Senate Republicans, including Skelos, signed the pledge. The platform was smart at the time; however it could turn into a liability for the GOP as the current system of legislature-controlled gerrymandering helps to maintain Republican relevance in this predominantly blue state.

Skelos claimed that his reasons for apparently reneging we constitutional in nature; since the process as it stands is dictated by the state’s constitution, an amendment to the state constitution would be necessary to change the process. Koch stated that Skelos said that he would not be persuaded otherwise, except by the State Court of Appeals.
Any such amendment could not be enacted in time for the redistricting scheduled to be completed by the 2012 election and would therefore not affect the redistricting process until the end of this 10-year cycle; a sluggish turnaround on reforms promised for this term.

“That is, of course, not acceptable to us because the constitutional objections that he is making today were not made when he made the commitment,” Koch said. “We believe it is simply an effort to derail the whole operation.”
Sen. Mike Genarias (D-Queens), who had proposed an independent redistricting bill similar to the governor’s, called Senate Republican’s flip on their campaign promises “shameful.”

“Not since the first President Bush told us to read his lips have we seen a more dramatic turnaround on a campaign promise than what we’ve seen from the Senate Republicans, and it happened in a span of less than two months of being in the majority,” Genarias said. Genarias also cried foul on the GOP’s constitutional concerns, citing their campaign last month to strip the lieutenant governor of his constitutionally mandated deciding vote in the Senate.

“Several different redistricting reform bills have been proposed. We are still reviewing constitutional concerns that we have with the bill submitted by the governor. It is our intention to pursue a redistricting reform measure that will meet the NY Uprising pledge,” said Skelos in a statement released shortly after Koch’s press conference. “As the State Constitution gives the Legislature the sole authority to draw district lines, the strongest plan would amend the constitution to establish a process that is truly fair, bipartisan and constitutionally sound.”
Skelos also expressed concern that under the governor’s legislation, the process would be disproportionately weighted in favor of Democrats.

In an interview with Liz Benjamin that aired on Capital Tonight Tuesday, Koch seemed willing to be patient and look on the brightside of Skelos’ resolution to somehow uphold both his NY Uprising pledge and his interpretation of the state constitution. “I don’t want to push Skelos away if he’s coming my way,” said Koch.

According to Koch, Skelos said that, though he did not support Cuomo’s legislation, he would not urge the other 31 members of his conference to oppose the measure and that they are free to co-sponsor the bill if they wish. The bill is currently under review by the senate rules committee.

{ 1 comment }

glennw March 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Dean Skelos' claim that the New York State Constitution has his hands tied on redistricting sounds bogus. My understanding is that the state constitution only says that the legislature must pass a law confirming the boundaries of the districts, but is silent on who actually gets to draw up those lines. Therefore redistricting could, and should be done by an independent body to break the cycle of gerrymandering. If memory serves, the last time the lines were drawn the courts threw out the legislature's original boundaries and they were then redrawn by a specially appointed court master, which proves that redistricting is not the legislature's sole and sovereign right. And because Skelos himself drew up the first set of lines for the state senate last time, I bet he knows all this full well. These kinds of flimsy dodges by our state's politicians is part of why so many are fed up with business as usual in Albany.
- Glenn Weiser