Monday, May 07, 2007

How About Independent Redistricting with a Nice Tall Glass of Rules Reform on the Side

Are you concerned that New York is going to become a one party state if we adopt an independent redistricting process?

You’re not alone. Lawmakers, including Senator James Alesi writing in the Buffalo News [link updated] last week, have expressed hesitation at the idea of reversing the gerrymander that keeps Republicans in charge of the Senate and Democrats dominant in the Assembly. By party affiliation, Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state almost 2-to-1.

Alesi argues that, if redistricting is truly done in an impartial way, “the citizens of this state must have significant protection against the predictable outcome of one party controlling both houses of the Legislature, congressional districts and a predictable long-term occupation of the governor’s office.”

First, we don’t grant Alesi’s premise that Democrats will form an iron grip on the executive branch. Didn’t Republican George Pataki just leave office after 12 years in power? Hasn’t the overwhelmingly Democratic city of New York been run by Republican mayors for just as long? New Yorkers know how to split tickets.

But more importantly, we don’t think Alesi’s solution of adopting unbridled initiative and referendum is necessary to give all New Yorkers a proper voice in government.

What we really need is legislative rules reform. Without a constitutional amendment, even without agreement between the Assembly and Senate, each house can clean up its rules to give rank-and-file members of both parties the opportunity to effectively represent their constituents.

By equalizing staff and office resources, improving the committee process, allowing votes on legislation even when it’s unpopular with leaders, and institutionalizing conference committees, the Legislature can clear the way for the people’s representatives, regardless of party and geography, to participate in the creation and implementation of innovative solutions to New York’s most urgent problems.

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