Weekly Feature

2011-02-23 / Local News

Governor’s proposal seeks independent redistricting panel

by MATT KRUEGER Cheektowaga Editor

Years of political debate and charges of corruption in Albany could end with the passage of the Redistricting Reform Act of 2011, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The governor’s plan would establish an independent redistricting commission to permanently reform how congressional and state legislative districts are drawn in New York.

Cuomo said he is pushing the act in reaction to criticism aimed at the state capital for “placing political considerations that protect incumbent office-holders and partisan objectives above the public’s interest.”

“This process needs to be about the people and not the politics,” Cuomo said. “To help restore faith in our state government, we need to reform the system. This bill ensures greater independence, transparency and a commitment to fair representation and equality.”

According to Cuomo, the commission would offer citizens throughout the state the opportunity to voice their opinions through a series of public hearings. It would also post its redistricting plans and corresponding data on a website.

The bill requires the commission to be bipartisan and reflect the state’s diversity.

Redistricting was one of the promises Cuomo made during his campaign last year. He was joined by several members of both the Senate and Assembly in signing a pledge to support independent redistricting.

State Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, R - Amherst, Clarence, Tonawanda, said that although he is supportive of the redistricting plan, he feels the governor and state representatives need to focus on balancing and passing the proposed budget.

“Redistricting reform is an important issue,” Ranzenhofer said. “However, passing a budget that cuts spending, provides tax relief and empowers private-sector job development should be at the top of the State Legislature’s to do list right now. While I am supportive of the concept of an independent redistricting commission, I am still concerned a commission — without the proper checks and balances — might put politics first, instead of the interests of the people.”

Ranzenhofer said the redistricting reform must include specific provisions to prevent members of the commission from being subjected to undue influence from special interest groups or members of the State Legislature.

“Over the next few days and weeks, I will be reviewing the governor’s legislation and other proposals to ensure redistricting reform results in a fair, open and nonpartisan process,” he said.

In addition to proposing this bill, Cuomo promised to veto the redistricting plans passed by the Legislature if those plans have been developed under the existing process.

According to the proposal, members of the commission would be chosen by legislative leaders from a bipartisan pool of qualified candidates that reflects the state’s geographic, racial, ethnic and gender diversity. To ensure independence, the decision-makers would be required to consult with organizations devoted to protecting voters’ rights. Anyone who has been a member of the Legislature, a legislative or executive chamber employee, a political party official or a registered lobbyist in the past four years could not be selected.

The proposal lays out the following requirements for redrawing the district lines: all congressional districts shall be as nearly equal in population as practicable; districts shall be contiguous; districts shall not be established that are intended to or result in a denial or abridgement of minority voting rights, including the opportunity of minority voters to participate in the political process, and to elect the candidates of their choice; and districts shall not be drawn with an intent to favor or oppose any political party, any incumbent, or any previous or presumed candidate for office. e-mail: mkrueger@beenews.com

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