Last Updated: 1:00 AM, March 2, 2012
Posted: 10:39 PM, March 1, 2012
The Legislature is expected at last to vote on redistricting next week — although not on a plan for new congressional seats. Its foot-dragging is undoing all of the goodwill gained from its cooperation with Gov. Cuomo last year.
The congressional plan, which was due last week, is about to wind up in the hands of a court-appointed special master. The state Senate and Assembly punted this core legislative responsibility to the judiciary.
As a high-school football coach recently put it on HBO’s Real Sports, “Punting is a sign of offensive failure.” The Legislature’s failure is offensive: Lawmakers surrendered to partisan and intraparty wrangling — giving credence to demands that redistricting be permanently handed to an independent commission.
Foot-dragging has become the Legislature’s habit, from the 2002 federal mandate for electronic-voting machines to the 2009 law ordering enough time for mailing in military ballots.
In his day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rightly denounced the Southern states-rights strategy of “interposition and nullification.” Today, he’d say the same of New York actions preventing the enforcement of federal laws.
No, our state leaders don’t block voter-registrar doors; instead, they quietly defy federal mandates with which they disagree or which simply inconvenience them.
For years, they managed to flout federal voting-rights laws while negotiating waivers. But this year, federal Judge Gary Sharpe put an end to the game, ordering congressional-primary elections be moved to June 26 to allow compliance with the military-balloting law.
Its actions here have been obstructionist.
Gov. Cuomo, meanwhile, has been inscrutable. Yes, he’s promised to veto any redistricting plan that doesn’t include a mechanism for independent redistricting. In a recent radio interview, he essentially called the Senate Democrats hypocrites for not enacting independent redistricting when they were in the majority two years ago.
As I’ve noted before, we’re headed for mean election-year chaos: With political fights (will Cuomo veto?), court battles and Justice Department legal review under the Voting Rights Act all adding delays, many potential candidates simply won’t have the time to petition their way onto the primary ballot.
As with the budget last year, Cuomo apparently wants to throw open the curtain on how Albany operates. He seems to have no qualms about taking legislators to the brink — and letting them fall into the abyss.
He apparently hopes the Legislature will see the error of its ways and make permanent reforms to redistricting. That may yet happen by Monday.
But Cuomo should take to his bully pulpit to protect the public’s right to free, timely and fair elections. He should insist that the Legislature, not the federal court, decide on a new 27-district congressional plan. With New York losing two congressional districts, he should direct legislative leaders to create “fair-fight” districts where neither party has an advantage.
Fair-fight districts would offer the competitive general elections that let voters decide. The usual practice — each political party losing a safe seat, while keeping most districts uncompetitive — is undemocratic.
The game clock to election-year chaos is ticking down. Cuomo should take control. It’s time to win one for democracy in New York.