CITIZENS UNION CALLS FOR NEW WAY on REDISTRICTING REFORM
Urges State Legislature To Return To Albany For A Special Session To Pass Redistricting Reform
New Two-Step Proposal Would Involve Acceptable Reform in 2012 and
Constitutional Amendment Passage Bringing About Permanent Reform
Citizens Union today joined with former New York City Mayor Ed Koch in calling for legislators to pass redistricting reform this fall in a special session in Albany rather than continue with the same partisan process run by the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR).
In doing so, Citizens Union publicly put forth a proposal aimed at trying to break the partisan impasse and find an alternative approach that could be embraced by the Governor, the State Senate and the State Assembly. The proposal would still embody the principles of creating an impartial process undertaken by an independent body guided by clearly-defined criteria. This less than ideal reform approach for 2012 would be acceptable so long as it is tied to passage of a much stronger constitutional amendment that would bring permanent change to the redistricting process in 2021. The new panel would inherit the work performed to date by LATFOR.
"Legislators must return to Albany this fall and pass redistricting reform," said Dick Dadey, Executive Director for Citizens Union. "It's high time we ended the fallacy that despite all historical evidence to the contrary, LATFOR will somehow draw fair lines this decade. Who holds the power of the pen at the moment the final lines are drawn is really what matters. Legislators currently have a conflict of self-interest that needs to be removed. Only with a more independent body will we finally see an end to decades of partisan gerrymandering."
Just yesterday, a Quinnipiac poll showed that the vast majority of voters support removing some or all of the legislature's ability to control the redistricting process. Fifty percent of voters support a fully independent commission with no legislative input, and 27 percent support an independent commission with some legislative input - which should be noted is the model provided in legislation introduced by Governor Cuomo. Together, 77 percent of voters believe that the current process of legislators drawing their own lines must end. Furthermore, 48 percent of voters polled stated that they would feel "betrayed" if LATFOR continues its current process and lines are draw the same old way.
"Legislators drawing their own district boundaries are, quite simply, blatant conflicts of interest," said former New York State Attorney General and Citizens Union board member Robert Abrams. "They create these maps with one primary purpose in mind: winning reelection and maintaining the majority party's iron grip on power. The result is divided communities, marginalized ethnic groups, and uncompetitive elections that diminish the accountability of government."
184 of the 212 members of the legislature either pledged to the voters during campaign season to support an independent commission, or co-sponsored legislation reforming the redistricting process this past legislative session. Yet in spite of this record level of support, the legislature has failed to act to reform the redistricting process.
"Legislators should keep their promises and honor their commitments," declared John Avlon, Citizens Union board member and senior columnist for Newsweek. "The public has grown tired of politicians who say one thing on the campaign trail and do another once in office. Renewing confidence in the much-maligned state legislature requires that elected officials transcend narrow partisan self-interest and deliver the real redistricting reform the public demands."
Governor Cuomo has expressed his lack of confidence in LATFOR's ability to be nonpartisan and impartial, and will veto any lines the body draws.
Read Citizens Union's testimony at LATFOR's public hearing in Manhattan today.