New York Redistricting: All for Reform, and Reform for None

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First comes census numbers, then comes the redistricting battle. In New Jersey, a tiebreaker’s been brought in to settle the scuffle between jockeying Republicans and Democrats, while in New York, New York lawmakers in Albany and Washington are preparing for the fight.

While all sides of the political spectrum express support for redistricting reform in New York, there was a lot of talk but no progress this week.

Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced his redistricting bill last month that would create an independent commission to redraw Congressional and legislative districts. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver introduced the bill and backs the panel idea, whose members would be appointed by legislative leaders from nominations from the governor and legislative leaders.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said he does not, to the chagrin of Ed Koch, who was in Albany this week to pressure lawmakers to follow through on redistricting reform. Skelos said he backs redistricting reform, but his spokesman Scott Reif said that courts would reject Cuomo's bill as the "executive inserting itself into what has been ruled is a legislative perogative." For now, Reif said Skelos is backing a constitutional amendment, which requires approval of two back-to-back legislatures before going to voters.

(When asked about how that would slow the timeline, Reif said, "the Senate Democrats had two years to take up independent redistricting and did not make it a priority.") 

Koch now has plans to target lawmakers who he says have reneged of their pledge to improve redistricting. If Skelos tries to let the bill die, "We will go after him and his members in their districts." That may include Koch-voiced robo-calls to 100,000 households. "I'm prepared to do it," Koch said, but added, "I’m of the opinion that people are honorable and will keep their pledges ultimately. They may have to be pushed. They may have to be threatened. But they ultimately keep their pledges in my book, and I hope that applies here."

New York is the only state seriously discussing changing the process for this cycle, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

New York is due to lose two of its 29 Congressional seats after the 2010 census, which currently has 21 Democrats and 8 Republicans. Census numbers for New York are expected later this month.

Some New York lawmakers in Washington are bringing in extra help to protect their districts during the Albany decision-making. Buffalo Congressman Brian Higgins’ office confirmed that he’s hired an Albany lobbyist firm to represent him during the redistricting process. They’ll be “working all-out to ensure that Western New York maintains its voice in Congress,” a statement from Higgins’ office reads.

It's not an uncommon practice, as Politico first reported, but not everyone is signing on to the idea. "Absolutely not," Rep. Nan Hayworth spokeman Nat Sillin, when asked if his boss was considering a similiar move. Spokespeople for Hayworth and Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY25), both Republican freshmen and political novices, said they have no plans to hire lobbyists to help deepen their relationships in Albany.

New Jersey has a different process altogether, but agreement was equally hard to come by there this week. A bipartisan redistricting panel deadlocked there this week when the 5 Democrats and 5 Republicans couldn't agree on a new map of legislative districts. and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court tapped Rutgers public policy professor Alan Rosenthal to break the tie, a role he's played in the last two previous census cycles.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, at least one lawmaker isn’t looking to just influence the ways lines are drawn, but to reduce the number of representatives altogether. A Democratic lawmaker proposed cutting the number of seats in the state Senate and House in half. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her colleagues don’t look likely to go along with the plan.