Colby Hamilton, Writer, WNYC News
Colby Hamilton is a general assignment reporter. He originally joined WNYC as a political blogger. He's a proud graduate of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
Calling the process poisons for democracy, former Attorney General Bob Abrams told reporters on a conference call that Governor Andrew Cuomo was in "a unique moment in the state's history" when it comes to the decennial process of redrawing legislative district lines.
"Governor Cuomo in the campaign as candidate for governor made a pledge about vetoing lines that would be drawn in a partisan way," Abrams said. "We have for the first time some lever of power of the legislature."
The call was organized by Citizens Union, which Abrams is connected to as president of the organizations advocacy arm. He, like the organization, called on the Governor to use his veto to negotiate a compromise that sees the state's redistricting process taken out of the hands of the legislators ten years from now.
"We should use this unique moment in history—where a candidate for governor made a pledge … is prepared to stick by his pledge, but at the same time not just have that pledge effectuated by virtue of having a Pyrrhic victory--by winning a battle, but not really winning the wary," Abrams said.
The conference call was the latest in a recent push by Citizens Union to have Cuomo use his veto threat as a way to get, as Abrams put it, "permanent solution to this problem [of having the legislature draw their own lines] and have an amendment to the constitution presented to the people of New York State."
Yesterday Citizen Union's Dick Dadey sent a letter to the Governor, calling on him to "secure lasting and permanent redistricting reform through statutory change and a constitutional amendment; and pursue meaningful changes to this year’s lines by holding direct negotiations with the legislature."
Attorney General Abrams outlined a series of bullets of his own in a press release before the call. Most notably he suggested the future independent process look similar to the one currently used in Iowa. Back in September of last year, we broke down the various ways independent redistricting works (or doesn't), and highlighted the Iowa system:
Only a few states have actual independent commissions: Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, New Jersey, Washington and California. These commissions have specific rules for who can be on the commission, and guidelines for how district lines should be drawn. In most states, the legislature has a direct role in picking the members of the commission.
For example, in Idaho the majority and minority parties in each chamber pick a commissioner, as does the head of each statewide party. None of the commissioners are allowed to be current office holders.
The commission has 90 days to come up with a plan, during which the public is allowed to comment and provide their own plans. The commission then picks a plan and votes on it. Neither the legislature nor the governor has a say in the process.
Not all good government groups are jumping on the compromise band wagon. Common Cause's Susan Lerner released a statement again calling on Cuomo to veto the lines:
"New Yorkers deserve real permanent reform of the redistricting process, and we welcome the opportunity for an open discussion of what a constitutional amendment should look like," Lerner said in the statement. "However, reform in the future is not interchangeable with the best possible result in this cycle which, due to the Legislature's intransigence, lies entirely with the courts. The Governor got it right when he promised to veto any gerrymandered lines."
She continued: "The Governor has repeatedly called for a better process this year and a better product in the future: he can have both. Vetoing the lines and letting the courts handle the process is the best possible outcome for this redistricting cycle."