Editorial: Encourage independent redistricting

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

AT ISSUE: End gerrymandering and create fair state representation

If you’ve ever wondered what the 47th state Senatorial district looks like, see the map at left. Other Senate — and Assembly — districts throughout the state are equally defined by jigs and jags so they look like they were drawn on an Etch-A-Sketch.

But don’t be fooled. These districts were very carefully crafted — by state legislators.

That needs to change.

The tactic is called gerrymandering, a process by which legislators carve out districts to favor a particular party. It takes its name from Elbridge Gerry, governor of Massachusetts, who signed a bill in 1812 to redraw district lines in his state to benefit his own party. It’s a combination of his name and the word “salamander,” a wriggly little amphibian whose contortions best define the oddly shaped districts.

Gerrymandered districts are usually drawn to safeguard incumbents. That’s clear in New York state, where only 30 incumbents have been beaten in the general elections over the past 22 years, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group. And when an incumbent retires, his or her replacement is almost always a member of the same political party.

Gerrymandering gives new meaning to the term “politically correct,” but it does little to serve community needs. For instance, look at the little chink in the lower left of the 47th district on the map below. That shows the city of Rome, which is split between the 47th and 49th state senatorial districts. That makes no sense. Certainly Rome would better benefit by having one senator, but that’s not likely to happen if legislators redraw the lines.

The system also discourages competitive elections because the lines are drawn to favor a particular party. NYPIRG statistics show that only 25 of the 212 legislative districts — 11 percent — have close enough party enrollments that could allow frequent competitive elections.

This can change. The boundaries will be redrawn once the 2010 U.S. Census is completed, and a more equitable pattern can be determined by having the work done an independent commission.

There is a bill in the Senate — S1155 — sponsored by Sen. David Valesky, D-49, that would create a nonpartisan commission to redraw the lines. It’s been in the operations committee since January. A similar bill is in the Assembly — sponsored by Assemblyman Michael N. Gianaris, D-Queens — also is stuck in committee.

This must be moved forward. Competitive elections and fair representation are the foundation of our democracy. Right now, that’s lacking, and while it’s always difficult to wrest power from the ones in control, lawmakers who want to do the right thing will make sure that these bills to create an independent commission are approved.