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by Jay Gallagher

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Changes called for in reapportionment process

A lawmaker who helped craft new legislative and congressional districts nine years ago today defended the system at a forum co-sponsored by the League, while another lawmaker and the leading academic expert on state government said it needs to change.
“I favor the legislative approach,’’ said Assemblyman William Parment, D-Jamestown, who was the top Assembly Democrat on the Legislative Commission on Reapportionment in 2001.
He acknowledged that the current system, which puts lawmakers in charge of the process, aids incumbents and majority-party members at the expense of challengers and the minority parties. But he said he doesn’t have a problem with that.
“I don’t think you gain a great deal by competition,’’ he told a group of about 50 League members and others at the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, which also co-sponsored the event that was held to help the League celebrate its 90th anniversary. “That is heresy, I know.’’
But the state should change the current system to have a non-partisan commission draw district lines next year, said Gerald Benjamin of SUNY New Paltz.
“It would enhance the prospects for electoral competitiveness’’ and therefore the responsiveness of lawmakers to their constituents, Benjamin said.
The lines are scheduled to be redrawn next year based on this year’s census results. Since the Supreme Court’s “one-man, one-vote’’ ruling in the ‘60s, a panel of senators and Assembly members have set New York’s districts once a decade, with each house informally agreeing to approve the lines drawn by the other.
The result has been an important reason why incumbent so seldom lose races in New York, critics say.
“We need an independent redistricting commission,’’ said Assemblyman Daniel Burling, R-Wyoming County, who is slated to be the Assembly GOP representative on the reapportionment panel next year. “The Legislature has to have the internal fortitude to move ahead and do it.’’
But Burling said the only way the system is likely to change is if good-government groups and citizens demand it.
“We proposed changes. I don’t see the changes taking place,’’ he said. “But if they feel pain or feel threatened, they do things.’’
Going into today’s four special elections, Democrats controlled 110 of the 150 seats in the Assembly.
Jeffrey Wice, counsel to Senate reapportionment chairman Maleve Dilan, D-Brooklyn, promised the crowd “a much fairer, transparent and more deliberative process’’ than has been the case in the past.

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