It was no surprise last week when the state's highest court approved the manipulative redistricting plan adopted by the New York State Senate with the collusion of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The U.S. Supreme Court has already endorsed pretzel districts as legitimate forms of political redistricting -- see Sen. Mark J. Grisanti's newly drawn district -- so there was little reason to think the Court of Appeals would undo the creation of a new Senate district. The problem demands political leadership. New Yorkers need Cuomo to take charge -- as he promised he would.
The court ruling was the perfect capper to an intensely disappointing year. The State Legislature has created ademocratically corrupt system of redrawing district lines every 10 years, following each census. Population changes mean the districts must be reconfigured to preserve the constitutionally required system of one person, one vote. But lawmakers use that rebalancing of the districts to blatantly rig elections by ensuring that incumbents run in politically friendly districts. Most legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, promised in 2010 to support independent redistricting, but they were lying. They reneged on their signed agreements.
It's not surprising why. Not only does a rigged system vastly increase any incumbent's chances of winning re-election, it serves to discourage significant opposition in the first place. Who wants to try to unseat an incumbent in a district where the challenger starts from a position of significant weakness?
It is a profoundly cynical system of which state politicians are enamored, especially Senate Republicans, who use it to preserve power in a left-leaning state. But it deprives voters of their right to choose who represents them in a competitive election. That loss of authority over the winner allows incumbents to vote on policies that benefit their high-dollar benefactors, including business or labor unions and trial lawyers, with little regard to how the decision will play among voters, whose relevance has been undermined.
It was supposed to be different this year. Cuomo had run for office pledging not to approve any redistricting plan that was based on politics. Better to let the courts handle this critical task than submit yet again to the heavy hand of political insiders.
It didn't work out that way, for reasons that Cuomo has not explained. He has said he hopes to have a plan in place that would create a fair system for the 2022 redistricting. But it is only a hope for New Yorkers. Lawmakers love a system they can manipulate to their benefit, and the courts have largely given them free rein. The only way to achieve a democratically sound system that empowers voters is for the governor, and voters themselves, to insist upon it.
Cuomo needs to start pushing this again, now. Without prompt action, the status quo will reassert itself, and year after year will slip by and lawmakers will once again bleat that it is too late to fix a broken system.
We know this system is broken. We know it weakens the power of voters and supports a culture that has produced a dysfunctional Legislature and the nation's highest tax burden. What's the point in waiting to change it?