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The legislature never wants to change the system because this is about protecting them.

Cuomo proposes independent redistricting panel

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The process of redrawing lawmakers' districts based on new census figures can be one of the most vicious activities in politics. Governor Cuomo wants to take politics out of the process. He has introduced a bill that would create a bi- partisan panel to redraw legislative and congressional district lines. But so far, leaders in the State Senate and Assembly are non-committal. Karen Dewitt reports.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

The governor’s bill would set up a bipartisan redistricting commission, independent of the legislature, to attempt to more fairly draw new district lines for Senate, Assembly and congressional seats, which is required every decade after the new census numbers are published.

The governor and legislative leaders would pick members of the nominations committee, who would then select members of the redistricting commission.

The commission would hold public hearings around the state, and post the proposed new district lines on the Internet.

Cuomo did not offer comments on his bill, but in  written remarks accompanying his bill, says he would veto any redistricting plans by the legislature that do not adhere to the new guidelines.

New York State has a long tradition of what’s known as gerrymandering, many districts have been configured to aid specific lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans. Traditionally, Republicans in the Senate and Democrats in the Assembly have had a non aggression pact, each allowing the dominant party in each house free reign to draw district lines that benefit the party in power. The re-jiggering has led to some very oddly shaped districts, including ones that government reform advocates have dubbed “oops, I spilled the coffee”, and “Lincoln riding a vacuum cleaner”.

Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, says he’s encouraged that the governor has taken the first step.

“It’s important that the governor put out a proposal,” said Horner.

“We hope that it will drive the process and lead to meaningful reform.”

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who started the group New York Uprising, says he’s “pleased” by the governor’s bill. His group convinced a number of state lawmakers to sign a pledge during the 2010 election campaign that in part promised an independent redistricting process.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who signed Mayor Koch’s pledge, was somewhat non committal in his response to the governor’s new bill. In a statement, Skelos said that “ a number of proposals have been advanced”, and Senate Republicans will have to “take a close look at what makes sense”. But Skelos, says, right now, he’s more focused on getting the state budget passed on time.

Assembly Democrats also responded cautiously.

A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Sisa Moya, says the Assembly is “reviewing” the governor’s program bill, and will work with the Senate to “reform redistricting in time for the upcoming redistricting process”.

Horner says he’s not surprised by the legislature’s reaction.

“The legislature never wants to change the system because this is about protecting them”, said Horner, who said the legislature now has a “real serious problem”, because the governor is threatening to veto any attempts by the legislature to go its own way on redistricting.

Horner says lawmakers can either call the governor’s bluff, or buckle down and negotiate. Should the legislature go it’s own way, and the governor does veto the lines, the duty of redistricting would be sent to a court appointed special master. That scenario occurred the last time district lines were re drawn, in 2002. 

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