Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Redistricting Reformer?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's redistricting proposal was unveiled this past week to great fanfare, with good government groups fawning over the measure. The reception from politicians was mixed, with the Senate's Democratic Conference and Democratic Conference-lite expressing their self-righteous support, while Senate Republicans expressed concerns.
"A number of proposals have been advanced and we have to take a close look at what makes the most sense," said Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
Diving into the bill, though, it's interesting to see what actually counts as reform. In this case its a multi-step process that begins and ends in the legislature's hands.
Good government groups, like the Brennan Center, argue that the change is that the process will be in the open and therefore won't be susceptible to backroom shenanigans. They argued that the secrecy in the past has ruined the process, which will be fixed by public involvement and oversight this time around.
"Governor Cuomo's proposal will open up the process and allow public engagement," said Erika Wood, of the Brennan Center.
According to the proposal's justification, the public involvement would mostly consist of the following:
The Commission would be required to hold numerous public hearings throughout the State and, prior to its first hearing, would post on its website extensive information concerning the plans under development and the data involved in order to facilitate public review, assessment, and critique of those plans, and the development of alternative plans. In particular, the Commission would be required to post its own assessment of its draft plan's compliance with and service of the requirements and principles set forth below, including the plan's protection of minority voting rights.

What has been downplayed is the actual decision making process, which begins with a nominations committee that is picked by legislative leaders and the governor. They then choose 40 people, 15 Dems, 15 GOP and 10 Blanks, to make up a nominations pool, where the final Independent Commission members will be chosen from. (Enough layers? Well baby it's cold out, so pack them on.)
Those 8 members are chosen from the nominations pool by (who? You guessed it!) the legislative leaders. Then three other members are chosen from the pool by the 8 commission members, with two of the new people serving as co-chairs.
Then we get some data and shake it all around (with public involvement!) and come up with a redistricting recommendation.
Done? Not quite. The legislature must approve the plan. If they don't, the Commission must change the plan and resubmit it. Rejected again? Then the commission submits a third plan, which THE LEGISLATURE COULD AMEND BEFORE VOTING ON! No word on another failure to pass the Commission's plan...
Apparently this is what passes for reform in New York. An open process that involves the same players who, based on the short-term memories of the voters, have no reason to respect any sort of positive changes.

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