Transcript of session held October 10th, 2007 at Ithaca Town Hall - Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, Assemblyman William Parment, Michael Lane
If you have corrections to the transcript - the audio is here (42.7MB MP3) - please let me know.
Barbara Lifton: Good afternoon, everyone. I don't know if you listened to the radio this morning but it revealed that I had gone to see the Dalai Lama yesterday, and I was thinking after it this is, I don't know, we saw this as important… he folds his legs, [inaudible]... and says, you know… “This is reasonably informal, we're going to chat. Always, the more important events, birth and death, are very informal events.” [inaudible] we're doing it that way, we'll be a little be more formal. We'll be somewhere between formal and informal today.
I want to start by thanking you all of you for coming; I realize this is a little esoteric as political subjects go, but it's a very important issue, as you all understand. I'm very glad that you would come and do this. What I said about putting this together was that I'm here to learn. I'm not an expert in redistricting. In fact, I've said I feel like I really haven't had enough time to study and look at it, and so I said let's call Assemblyman William Parment in, and I thank Bill very much for coming and being willing to do this. Bill, you may see Bill wandering around the streets a bit, he's adopted it as his second home. I'm hoping he doesn't decide to move here and run against me. [laughter]
His son went to law school here for three years, so he and his wife eventually spent a lot of time here, and loved it. He said, “When we saw the “Bush Must Go” signs around town, we knew we really love this place.” I thank Bill very much for being willing to do some preparation here.
I also want to thank Mike Lane. Mike has brought up this issue of redistricting - this important issue - and I appreciate him doing that, and I appreciate his willingness to come and join in this panel.
I'm not giving presentations. I'm only here to listen and facilitate and bring discussion from the group. I know Simon has been interested in this issue and distributed this material. I appreciate that, also. Let me just quickly give you a sense of our two guests on the panel today. Bill, as well as I've already said, I think was the - is still; it's not a past tense - the co-chair of…past tense. OK, so it's no longer current.
Bill Parment: [inaudible]
Barbara: OK, so Bill was the Democratic Co-Chair of the Redistricting Task Force in its last incarnation, after the 2000 census, in 2001 and 2002. The Task Force does the work of redistricting the state. There are five members of that, Nancy?
Nancy: There's two co-chairs and then the staff.
Bill: There are three from the senate.
Barbara: OK, so Bill was the lead Democrat on the Task Force Commission and is, obviously, an expert in how redistricting is done and how it was specifically done in the last round. Bill is serving his twenty-fifth year in the state assembly. First elected in ‘82. He represents a lot of Chautauqua County; lives in Jamestown; a sixth generation native of Chautauqua County; raised on a dairy farm; has an Associate's Degree from Farmingdale Long Island Ag and Technical College; a BS from SUNY New Paltz; and he's done graduate work at SUNY Fredonia.
Bill worked as a civil technician in the construction industry and as a facilities planner for the State University of New York. For twelve years, he was employed by Chautauqua County: first as a planner, then as Deputy Director of Planning and Development, and finally, for six years, as Director of Public Works. Bill serves on the Education Committee in the Assembly; Environmental Conservation; Mental Health; Veterans' Affairs; and Ways and Means. So, Bill, again, thank you very much for being with us.
I know Mike Lane needs no introduction here, although we also have a little bio for Mike. Mike is a lifelong resident of the Village of Dryden; he's a graduate of Dryden Central School. He earned his BA from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and his JD from University of Akron Law School. He's a practicing attorney with a civil practice in the Village of Dryden, starting in 1979. He's been at that for awhile.
Mike is a county legislator for Tompkins County for 12 years. Eight of those years were spent as vice chair of the county legislature. Mike also chaired the IDA, the Charter Review Committee, the Public Works Committee, Rural/Urban Coordination Committee and held several other leadership positions on the county legislature. Prior to being a county legislator, Mike was also the Mayor of the Village of Dryden for five terms, and a Village Trustee before that. Obviously, a committed and superb public servant. Mike, thank you very much for joining us today.
What I planned to do is let Bill open this discussion with a brief - I think we were saying 15 or 20 minutes, Bill? - presentation.
Bill: I wanted to give out some materials here. If you could just pass them around.
Barbara: Bill also told me he's calling this presentation “The Good, Bad, and the Ugly of Redistricting in New York.”
Bill: Thank you for inviting me, Barbara. This is a very important topic and - I think you used the term - esoteric. If my memory serves me, esoteric means that it is purposefully vague and unknowable. I think that's probably a good way to describe redistricting. Redistricting is purposefully vague and unknowable.
Barbara: I thought it meant “high-level.”
Bill: Esoteric. It's borderline esoteric, and those who are on the inside of the process, I think, probably spend a lot of time keeping it that way for their own purposes. I've prepared, at Barbara's request, a little handout. I have to thank my wife for helping me put this together. My wife, for several years, was an elementary school teacher, so she knows the value of lesson plans and the discipline necessary for preparing handouts. I never personally learned, and I tend to wing it most of the time, but with her help, we put together this little handout.
What I tried to do is put together what factors are required by various aspects of our government structure, and the first guidance that you need to take into consideration when it comes to redistricting is the U.S. Constitution and its application to this process. The application to states comes principally through the 14th Amendment or the 15th Amendment which I've abbreviated there.
The 14th Amendment basically says that the states may not deny the protection of laws to any of its citizens. And the 15th says that the right to vote shall neither be denied or abridged on account of race.
Both of these amendments were enacted after the Civil War as you can see by the dates. They were basically a reaction to the 13th Amendment which emancipated slaves and its labor in this country. And I've also included the Para 2, Section 4: One that basically states that the times, places, and manners of holding elections for senators or representatives shall be proscribed by each state by the legislature thereof. And, of course, when we get into the word “manner”, that includes how the districts are shaped and so redistricting is a constitutionally required responsibility of the state legislatures.
And when it comes to the House of Representatives, obviously we don't district our state Senators because their district is at-large and it's one of the few areas of non-proportionate representation. In fact, it's the only one I think of that's still beyond the reach of the U.S. Supreme Court and the application of the 14th and 15th Amendments. Our senators do not represent equal numbers of people. They all represent a state-based population. They go from 35 million to less than a million. So our senators have a lot more constituents than people from Wyoming.
Then I listed several U.S. Supreme Court decisions that bear on redistricting. And in these—I constructed most of this from memory so if you are a constitutional law expert, you might find fault with how I characterize these cases. But these are some of the more important cases dealing with redistricting.
Baker v. Carr [inaudible], Nashville, Tennessee, I believe; Baker decided that the Tennessee legislature was malapportioned and went into court and went all the way to the Supreme Court with the case. And at that point, the U.S. Supreme Court said that the Court would take notes of the malapportioned legislates of the state legislature and remand the case back to the Federal District Court for resolution. But the important thing was that they determined that it was not a political issue; that it was a governance issue and that redistricting was subject to the strictures of the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
A year later under Gray v. Sanders: equality among voters was required by the U.S. Supreme Court. Wesberry v. Sanders: equal representation among the people. Reynolds v. Sanders: both houses had to be based on proportionate representation. In other words, you can't have the Assembly in New York based on population and the Senate based on boundaries; both houses have to be based on proportionate population.
In New York, of course, this gave rise to a court case; The New York Times sued the Secretary of State, John Lomenzo. The court ruled, I think it was in ‘64, that the New York state districting program at that time was unconstitutional, that they malapportioned, that they denied the equal protections of both of the laws and the cities particularly, and redistricting was ordered.
There was a preliminary election in 1965, which the Democrats won both houses. Didn't hold it very long. They had another election in ‘66 and the Republicans returned to power in both houses.
But then the first bicennial redistricting was done in 1970. And for those of you who want to read partisan motive into any of this. I have to say I am one; once in awhile I'll do that. I spend most of my life in a county that is very Republican and being a very lonely Democrat. I [inaudible] I think their cloudy sky probably put every rain cloud in.
Sort of a paranoid… [inaudible]. But if you want to read into it, it is the basis for New York State's redistricting that we currently are under. Really it's the 1970 plan. It was brought by the Republican Party when they had both houses of the legislature and the governor's position.
What's been done to it since is incremental. And like many government programs or projects, “incrementalism” is the word of the day. Very little changes in government dramatically overnight. Once in awhile they have a watershed event but mostly it's incremental.
Now, the watershed events surrounding redistricting actually were in the ‘60s. The great legal minds of the past century, as congregated in our US Supreme Court, concluded that malapportioned legislative bodies did deny the equal protection of the laws. And so they said, “Look. Get with it, states. You've got to come clean. You've got to do some redistricting.” It means that legislative bodies are comprised of districts, where the districts are proportionally equal in population.
And there's a couple other cases here that are cited. Mobile vs. Bolden, which basically said that at-large districts are not necessarily, per se, unconstitutional. And it's an important one because, during the early part of the last century, reformers wanted to have at-large elections in order to stymie the ability of political bosses to deliver through the ward system.
And so, throughout the country, you had this reform movement having at-large elections, and, quite often, that would be accompanied with a professional manager, rather than an elected mayor or elected chief executive officer. And the reformers thought that really was the way that the country should go. And so, in a lot of places, they adopted at-large elections for city councils.
The effect of having an at-large election is that it isolates minorities. And, from my point of view, the good government people had it right if they were dealing with a homogeneous community. But if they're dealing with a community that is based, say, of 20 percent Hispanic, 30 percent African-American, 40 percent white, and 10 percent Asian, that's not a homogeneous population, and someone gets denied opportunity, not only to serve, but to have an impact on the outcome of government in those circumstances.
Diversity not always has been as based on ethnic or racial background. Sometimes it's based on blue collar versus white collar. It depends on the community. But when you have a homogeneous community, and everybody says, “We like [inaudible]. Sure, you have enough for this election. You hire a city manager. Who cares?” Right? It's just whoever makes it.
But if you have division, and you have minority groups contesting for what they feel they need, against people who've been in the majority for a long time, the at-large system, I don't feel, works.
Well, in Mobile, Alabama, blacks were isolated. Although they were 20 percent of the population, they had never elected a city alderman or councilman, whatever they call them there. So they went to court and sued. The court said, basically, that, although they obviously didn't get elected, the at-large district wasn't, per se, a denial of the equal protection of the laws because the plaintiffs had not proven that the purpose of the at-large election was to breed racial discrimination.
Well, later, this case comes into conflict with some others, and that's why I brought it up.
Karcher vs. Daggett. I put that in there. That rose out of New Jersey. In Karcher vs. Daggett, the US Supreme Court struck down a congressional district scheme that had a deviation of 0.7 percent from largest to smallest congressional district, by population, in New Jersey. Well, 0.7 percent, less than one percent deviation, may sound like a pretty tight plan, but the court struck it down.
And so, in New York, we have used Daggett as a guideline in our congressional redistricting, assuming that if we were beyond 0.7 percent deviation in the size of our congressional districts, we'd run the risk of being taken to court, and that we might lose. So it's an important case in how we think about redistricting in New York State.
Thornburg vs. Gingles. This is a very important case and, in some respects, conflicts with Mobile vs. Bolden because, in Gingles, it said that if a minority's group is sufficiently large in number, and that group is compact such that that large number of people, in their compactness, would make a legislative district, and those folks can show that they are politically cohesive, and they can show that the majority population routinely votes to frustrate their efforts to elect candidates of their choice, then the legislature must create a minority majority district—meaning that the district must have sufficient minority members in it to elect a member of that minority.
These minorities, by the way, are identified in the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which is the next major topic here.
Again, while the great legal minds of the last century were so, so were they great political minds at work. And Martin Luther King, of course, epitomized the Civil Rights Movement, brought it to its head. And Lyndon Johnson, who was President of the United States, did what everyone at that time essentially said was one of the singular acts of political courage for a party politician to ever undertake, and that was forced through the U.S. Senate and signed into law – the Voting Acts Right of 1964.
Lyndon Johnson, on signing the act, said that it would deny the Democrats the presidency for a generation. And he was right. But it was the right thing to do. And that definition of who's a minority still is basically what was set down at that time. What are the minorities that we have to identify in order to comply with the Gingles test?
Well, what else do we have here? Oh, Miller vs. Johnson. Miller vs. Johnson – it was arose out of Georgia. The district 160 miles long, a narrow, along corridor off I-85. And you'd be driving down I-85 and change districts as you drove down the road. Going this way, you'd be in District 13 and District 12 would be on the other side of the road. And suddenly you'd be in District 12 and District 13 would be on the other side of the road.
And the remark made by one legislator, if someone drove down I-85 with both doors open you'd kill everybody in the 13th District; it was that narrow and that long. It was drawn basically to create a minority-majority district after the plan that they put together, of course, had been rejected.
At any rate, they threw it out because they said in that case, race was the predominant - that was the word they used, predominant factor - and that's not constitutional because it is a form of markup. And so here you have basically Miller vs. Johnson somewhat [door slams] somewhat like Thornburg vs. Gingles. If you're in the district, you have to figure out whether you follow Gingles or whether you avoid following Gingles and you might find yourself in a Miller vs. Johnson trap.
I think a couple of other things. Your districts must be substantially equal. You'll recall the one person, one vote; great statement. In the concurring opinion, William L. Douglas basically enunciated that—one person, one vote. Well, I think he wasn't quite gender-sensitized at the time, maybe one man, one vote works better in the sense of that time…
Courts have allowed, and I can't find this case—I probably missed it. Courts have allowed deviation from the largest district to the smallest district. In the state legislatures it would be 10 percent deviation. So let's say a district has 100,000 people – divide your population whenever you legislate a district proportionately – it's 100,000. So ideally district has 100,000. You can have a district of 105,000, and a district of 95,000 and still be within the US Supreme Court standards, with 106 and 96. As long as you're in that 10 percent deviation bracket, you've been judged OK. That's the state legislative level.
There's also a court case which I couldn't find when I was doing this - I can't remember the name of - that says you cannot retrogress. Now that's an interesting problem, and it reflects on Mobile as far as I'm concerned because in Mobile they said you don't really have to create a district for African-Americans even if they are in the minority. They've never been able to get elected.
You don't have to create it…you don't have to change when it's large. If you do create it, you can't go back. You can't retrogress. So if in the 1992 census or the 1992 scheme, you could have a minority-majority district and population trends changed, you'd better have one ironclad-proof reason why you retrogressed or the U.S. Supreme Court's going to find that case and you'll get knocked down.
Now in all of that, what's the cover? It's the U.S. Supreme Court. A legislature can sit there and say, “Gee, we like this game, we're not going to do anything.” What happened? [claps hands] Boom! Someone goes to court. Pretty soon you got a judge ordering you to change. By the time we got the census data in 2001 [inaudible], ten days later we were in court. Someone is suing saying, we're malapportioned. What do you mean we're malapportioned? We're already working at it. But they weren't going to take our word for it. They went to court and we were under the jurisdiction of the court within about literally 30 days after the census got distributed. So you might get a sleepy rural county that has redistricting and they say they like to keep going. The only one who can make it change is the courts. So the only thing that makes sense is to take it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Baker vs. Carr. So it's the courts that can…that creates it.
Now I mentioned the Voting Rights Act, number three. Another important thing we in New York have to contend with in districting. One of the other things in the Voting Rights Act… Well, let me give you the background predicate.
After the adoption of the 15th Amendment that said you can't deny people the right to vote on the basis of race, southern states particularly drafted up all kinds of different ways to bar people from voting: grandfather clauses - you can't vote unless your grandfather voted, you can't vote unless you can read and write, you can't vote unless you pay poll tax. And over time, these restrictions-my colleague, Marty Luster's arrived. Marty?
Martin Luster: How you doing?
Bill: Over time, these restrictions were knocked down by the US Supreme Court. And as soon as they knocked it down, the state would erect an additional barrier. So one of the genius provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 is that if you have a record of bad acting-and that's defined in the act-you are covered by the Voting Rights Act. If you are covered by the Voting Rights Act, any change in election procedure, including districting, must be pre-cleared by the federal Department of Justice.
New York has two covered counties of definitionally bad actors. Those counties are, I believe, Bronx and Queens.
Bill: Kings. Kings and Bronx. And the reason they're bad actors is that less than 50 percent of the population registers to vote. I suspect a lot of the reason is that, probably, they have a very large population that isn't eligible to register to vote because they're not citizens of the United States. However, because they have less than 50 percent of their population registered to vote, they are automatically covered counties, which means that any change in election procedure in those counties has to be pre-cleared by the Justice Department before it can be enacted.
Well, because redistricting is one of these things that's so interwoven, it means that New York State's entire plan, at the congressional level, the state senate, and the state assembly, must be pre-cleared by Justice before it can be enacted. And if they reject it, they have the force of law behind it, and you'll have to go back and change the plan to meet their objections.
That's what happened in that district in Georgia that resulted in Miller vs. Johnson. The state legislature, they created a plan that only had one minority district. And Justice said, “No good. You need at least two.” So they went back and created the second one, and then the Supreme Court threw that one out because of the use of race as the predominant factor. So sometimes you're caught between Justice and the courts, but in New York, you do need to go through the Justice process.
Now, I quickly turn to the New York State constitution. And New York State's constitution, in this regard, is a pretty archaic and interesting piece, enacted in 1898, major parts of it declared unconstitutional by New York Times vs. Lomenzo. But still, what would you say? It's extinct? Extant? It's still the law. It's still there.
And there's a lot of the provisions that weren't declared unconstitutional that you still have to abide by. And I've listed them. For instance, you may subdivide cities of any size – Ithaca may be cut into 14 legislative districts. No prohibition.
When we were doing congressional redistricting, Auburn came to us. Pretty much all of their civic organizations, the chamber of commerce, the city, blah, blah blah, had planned to be in one congressional district because, in the 1992 plan, it had been in three congressional districts. I personally thought it was an advantage to only have three members of Congress that had to pay attention to Auburn. But they didn't like it. They wanted to be in one congressional district. But New York State laws say you can subdivide cities.
I mention myself up here, too, because the constitution, in this regard, really only applies to the state legislative districts, so forget my Auburn example. But that was a real example, anyway, but it didn't happen to apply to this.
You may not subdivide townships, unless the population is greater than an Assembly or Senate district. Now, that happens on Long Island. The town of Huntington probably is five or 600,000 people, something like that, so that can have a couple of assembly districts in it. But the town of Virgil, for instance, which may have 3,000, cannot be subdivided; it has to be all into one Assembly district.
Now, there's one local exception to this, like there's an exception to almost everything in the law, and it's the town of Ramapo, which is not larger than the single Assemblies of the city, but it's divided into three of them. And it was adjudicated, and when they went to court in 1980, the people who drew the plan said, “Judge, we started at one end of the state, and we started at the other end of the state, and when we came together, we got to Ramapo, and it was split into three pieces.” The judge said, “OK.”
Ramapo still has three assembly seats, so it does not meet this rule. But, with the exception of Ramapo, every other township that's less than the size of an assembly seat is in a single legislative district.
Then there is the town-on-border, block-on-border rule. And I've described it there. Town-on-border rule basically says that, if you have an assembly district that divides a county, into two parts or three or whatever, and there is a town on the border of the assembly district and the population of that town is such that, if you put it into the next assembly district, and the two districts become more equal in size, you must do it. This seems like it is all simple.
The problem when it comes to apply it is that a change in Central New York has a ripple effect all the way across the State. Because if you correct one then you will open – You cross over to the next and the next and the next one. I will give you an example.
Block-on-border can cause the same thing for cities. In the cities it becomes an interesting mechanism because the census there is done block by block by block. There are blocks in cities on the Census Tracts that will show a little triangle and one person lives there. Or, maybe the next block has two people.
If you go to New York you can have as much as 25, 321. Then you will have a apartment building of 25,000. Well, that's an exaggeration. Twenty five hundred in a building, right? The demographics out there are really interesting. Then too, we also have people living in Central Park, I suppose under a bridge. So Central Park at least might have an individual. If you are interested.
Another important provision of the 1898 legislation is that in the senate they changed its number. In the course of it was a very bizarre formula that was invented in the 1898 constitution. It is bizarre because it is based on counties that no longer exist. At the time of this constitution, the Bronx and Westchester were one county. So what you have to do, is to go back of course to the 1898 to see what the counties were during that constitutional adoption. Then figure these populations on that basis.
The senate with this formula can say, “Well, we think that we should be 62 seats instead of 61 seats, or 60 seats. Right now the senate is 62 seats. In ‘92 it was 61 seats. I feel that they increased the senate by a seat basically to remove the city vote and give those State members a better chance to hang on to the same old districts. OK. Let's briefly some of the things you have to consider when you're redistricting New York.
Then I thought I would bring a few maps and just show you examples of them. I thought I would start with a look at these maps and just show you them. I see there are 150 assembly districts serving the same purpose for 25 years. It said, “Changes over the years.” I put in here the 1992 map. If you look up above you can see that the total population at that time was 120, 406. The deviation was 470 people, which meant that the ideal number was about 120, 876 individuals.
And then, when you go to the next sheet. This is the 150th Assembly District in 2002. You can see that it is 125,969 with a deviation of negative 540. So you can do the arithmetic there. The ideal seat probably I'd say would be about 126. 126-5 something like that. Then the deviation of the population. So the number that we are looking for in 2002 is 126,000 or thereabouts.
Now, what changed? You can see that I now represent the town of Denmark which I did not previously represent. It is an urban township of about 10,000 people. About a 50/50 split of Democrats and Republicans. More Republicans than Democrats. I lost the town of Charlotte. Charlotte is an example of the block-on-border situation. Up until the final draft of the plan I continued to represent Charlotte. I would have continued to represent Charlotte. But there was a change in the district near Auburn, and it caused that ripple effect that I talked about with the town on border rule.
It wound up that the town of Charlotte had to be transferred to the 149th District, which is next door. That township was moved way from there back home. It was suddenly redistricted. Anything can happen. I was blamed for it, or behind it. So we had to go and see. People thought I had [inaudible] Charlotte because they had a tire dump there. Well, to tell you the truth, I was happy about tire dump. It had already been cleaned up.
When I got to the town of Ellicot, you might notice it has the end of Chautauqua Lake in it, and it had a lake weeds problem. So, I told Kathy Young who was then a member of the assembly and is now a state senator. I said, “You are getting the tire dump and I'm getting lake weeds.” She said, “That's an even swap.” It was too. At any rate, it was really she could pass on.
Someone had this chart which shows left and right which was kind of interesting; right to left ratio. You can see by looking at the 150th Assembly district numbers, it says that 49,000 Republicans, 27,000 Democrats, a right to left ratio of about 108 percent, which I guess means that it leans slightly to the right, which is an interesting way to characterize it. I assume the author of this document has done is to add Conservative votes to the Republican line, and Independence inspired votes to the Democratic lines, perhaps.
Simon St.Laurent: Independence went Republican, Conservatives likewise, I think.
Bill: OK. Anyway, it's not a bad illustration of the district, because, that's about the way it is. Now, this is one of the things we'll take a little dodging from the press on all through the redistricting process. Telling tales out of school. Perhaps the press could ask us, “Well, did you consider voter enrollments?” And I say no. Or, they say, “You mustn't consider voter enrollments.” And no, we won't consider voter enrollments.
And we didn't. We considered voter performance. We don't care how people enroll. And if you ever looked in rural… New York State… you know… that everybody that's a rural Republican doesn't vote that way. And the same is true in the cities where you have heavy, heavy Democratic component, and not everyone votes that way. So the only thing we're interested in is voter performance, not voter enrollment.
My district votes in national and state elections 41% Democratic. So you can see that for me to win, I have a challenge. I had to get out and work it. And if I could have made my district more Democratic, would I? If I could figure a way to do it with this labyrinth of rules we had. But you know what, every time I add a township in my district, it makes my district more Republican.
So you know... Why didn't I advantage myself? Well, there's no way I can advantage myself, there's not a possibility. Now, I also included your assembly district, as another kind of example of a good one, I think a good one. Compact, meeting of interests, I think all of Tompkins County, you know, correct, and then because it needs additional population its got Cortland, another small city with a college in it, a community of interest.
You see in 1992 it had 121,000. It grew larger than the ideal number. No, larger in 1992. 121 in ‘92, about 119… At any rate, by 2002, it was undersized, and so within the 10 percent deviation we had to add the town of Virgil. I suppose we could have added in [inaudible], but those were in a different county. We already had the city of Cortland, and Cortland goes in this district.
So it seemed, I don't know, the logical thing for us to add Virgil, and then created the opportunity for the district to be within the deviation of 10 percent of the ideal number. In fact it's pretty close. It's undersized by .84. So it's not a bad district. But I can tell you that Marty Luster representated it then, he wasn't really saying, “Wow, I get to court Virgil!” Because Virgil is pretty Republican as I remember, and Marty is Democrat.
So we didn't advantage Marty Luster in redistricting. And let me say very emphatically, all incumbents hate redistricting. They don't look forward to it, it's their worst nightmare, it could be the end of their political career, they would rather have the status quo. They don't want redistricting. So the notion that it somehow basically advantages incumbents, is not universally accurate.
I want to go on to one other one. This is not a good example of a bad district. But I wanted to say good, bad, and ugly… This District 25 is an example of what happens when demographics change. This district, in 1992, if you look at the map is basically Flushing, Queens. Flushing is a community with a very heavy Asian population, ethnic Chinese. And was represented by very tall, good looking Irishman.
When we looked at it in ‘92, we said, this just is not going to pass muster, that we have a district that has grown in its Asian population. You see that even in ‘92 it had a 33 percent Asian population, I think that by 2002, it was well over 50 percent. So we went to the incumbent and said, look, we can't give you your old district back because if we give you your old district back, we're going to be in court and we're going to lose. We are convinced that we have created a minority-majority district with Asian population in order to match all of these diagnostics we referred to—specifically the Gingles test.
You can see this area is compact, and the population was sufficiently large to make an Asian district, and they never elected a member of their own choosing. Consequently, the Gingles test said we had to create a district, which we did. Then you look at 2002, the duration of the assembly district 25, you can see what happened to the incumbent.
It goes from Flushing all the way down the other side of Jamaica station - 86 percent new constituents - and he certainly wasn't advantaged by this. Now this individual happened to survive redistricting and he got reelected. Unfortunately he went on to be indicted.
Man 2: [inaudible]
Bill: Stanley Fink told me. He said there only two ways to end a legislator's career: One is undefeated, the other is unindicted. There's a question in the back.
Man: Just a quick question: You had said they were never able to choose somebody of their own choosing, I guess is how you phrased it. I want to know how you know that.
Bill: That is very difficult to know. An example is the 1992 process, the Justice Department was leaning on the Assembly to create a district that was a minority district that would elect a Dominican. We, in fact, made the effort to do that by creating a district up in Washington Heights, the northernmost part of the island of Manhattan, that was about 65 percent Hispanic.
They still elected an Irish-American, Brian Murtaugh, and eventually after two elections, I think, Murtaugh got beat by Adriano Espaillat, and now the district is represented by a Dominican. This time when we do the math, I think it became about 72 percent Hispanic.
Here's the two phrases. One's called packing and one's cracking. You are not allowed to do either. If you break a community of minority individuals up so that they can't be elected, that's cracking. If you pack them all into one district so they only have influence on that single district and no influence on outside districts, that's called packing. That's basically what was done in the Georgia district that was 160 miles long. They couldn't help but elect a black.
It's a very difficult balance to ride on. What you need to do is to basically look at election results for the last 10 years. For two purposes – 1) to find out whether the minority population is cohesive politically, and 2) to see what percentage of vote they deliver to their candidate based on their population.
Then move up the target point to where you can honestly represent to the Justice Department, or anybody else that might challenge it, that you have enough minority individuals in that district so that they should be able to elect a candidate of their choosing.
So there are some assembly districts that are designed in that regard. Rhoda Jacobs is white. She represents a district that is, I think, 91 percent non-white, and she's been there for years. The problem for the non-white community electing someone of their own color is that their participation is low.
Of course Rhoda's been there long enough to really establish herself, so she gets obviously some minority votes as well. In that case, we wonder how many additional minority people you need to put into that district before a bulls eye. We feel that 90 percent is up to the point where if we'd put more in there, we'd be packing.
Let's see, what else have I been, I spoke at… the majority leader's district. For people who think it's power that makes this thing inevitable and the outcome is they are always advantaged in some way. District 143 was represented by Paul Tokasz, who was at the time of redistrictring the majority leader of the state assembly.
His district was a cheek-a-block with very Democratic townships, traditionally Polish-American. Paul was Polish-American, and he represented a very Democratic area of the city of Buffalo. It was an appendage on the left side. I think colloquially it is known as Kaisertown.
Barbara: He also had a local connection in the [inaudible], yes? It was an excellent [inaudible] for 109 years, isn't that right?
Bill: Oh, is that right?
Barbara: Three or four years, yeah.
Bill: We looked at Buffalo, and Erie County seats, and it was pretty obvious that Tokasz shouldn't be in the city of Buffalo, from a lot of points of view, and common sense said I really didn't want to push Paul out of Buffalo – that would hurt Paul.
So, I went to Paul, and I said, “Paul, you know, if we leave you in Buffalo, we'd have to divide all the parishes in South Buffalo. If we do that, we're going to have a war.”
And he said, “What's the alternative?”
I said, “We can give you Lancaster.”
And he said, “Well, let me think about it.” He came back, and said, “Well, I'll tell you what, I think I can do it – I think I can survive it. That's a tough sell to me, since I don't want to be the cause of the division of South Buffalo parishes.”
So he gave them Lancaster, 46,000 new voters, found it a bit more Republican than Democratic, but he survived the election. He only stayed for two, and now he's retired. But it's another example of how it's pretty tough to always advantage your incumbent.
Now, I come to what I consider the uglies, the congressional districts. Your district is 22nd, which goes from Ithaca to the Hudson, and actually crosses the Hudson, and the 28th, which runs from downtown Rochester to downtown Buffalo, and runs down right along the southern shore of Lake Ontario.
This Congressional District 22 came into existence prior to Matt McHugh in the 1970 redistricting plan. What the Republicans who drew the plan didn't count on was that Nixon was going to break into the Watergate Apartment Complex, and try to eavesdrop on Democrats. Had he been successful, he'd have really been big news.
But, Watergate changed everything. And McHugh ran for Congress that year and won in that District, and held it for the better part of 18 years, a pretty long time; a very popular member of Congress. I ran for Congress in 1974, and I can still recall that the district I was running in ran from Lake Erie to just east of Elmira where the Tomahawk Restaurant is. That's about where the boundaries of the districts were. Matt McHugh and I, kind of on a press deal, met and exchanged water from the Hudson and Lake Erie, just to demonstrate how big the districts were. Matt McHugh won and I lost, my opponent went to jail, and Bill Clinton became the president. We all ran that year for Congress. Four people, different paths.
When re-districting came up, McHugh petitioned to keep that district, and he was successful. After the district was drawn, he announced that he wasn't going to run again.
Maurice Hinchey, who was then a member of the assembly, from Saugerties originally, I think he lives in West Hurley now, announced, and ran and won.
In 2001, we were re-doing the plans, so this plan didn't look like it was going to survive because the Democrats and the Republicans couldn't agree on who to throw under the bus. There were two seats that were disappearing, and conventional wisdom would say get rid of one Democrat and one Republican.
As I remember, in the Democratic plan, we nominated John LaFalce. The Republicans nominated Ben… I can't remember his name from Rockland County, real nice fellow.
Anyway, so, we didn't have a plan that was consistent. So, the courts stepped in, and the courts said, “This is the plan.” And, at that point, I don't think Ithaca was in Hinchey's district any longer. But I can still remember Cornell University coming in and saying, “Please we need to have Hinchey.”
So, they didn't mind that he lived in West Hurley, or wherever he lived, because they felt that he did a great job representing their interests. Well, this Congressional District 28, which I consider to be the ugliest district in the state, is a real war zone.
I keep asking the questions without being quoted on them.
Barbara: We do have some questions.
Bill: You do. OK. Yeah.
Bill: These are easy districts so [inaudible]. He first came up with his plan, Johnny LaFalce kind of looked over his shoulder at Tommy Reynolds' district and said, “I'm going to run in Reynolds' district and and that made the Buffalo news. That made Tom Reynolds nervous. So Tom Reynolds called the Vice President of the United States and said, “Hey, they're doin' me in. You got to help. So Dick Cheney called George Pataki and Joe Bruno and said, “Hey, you got to help my friend Tom Reynolds.” Sure enough, about three days later we got this plan out of the governor's office. It had this super ugly district in Western New York. Tom Reynolds' district that I have heard described as having more registered Holsteins than registered Democrats.
I'll tell you something else – that was tailor-made for him. The rest of New York got really scrambled. But that's how that district came about. What I try to put over to you is that redistricting combines an array of things – the good, the bad and the ugly. Some of your worst suspicions are true. Some of your suspicions are exaggerated and some of your suspicions are just misplaced. There is an awful lot about this redistricting process that is valuable and well-done.
I think I'll pass out two more maps. One is the senate district in the Northern Bronx and southern Westchester – Senate District 34. Another District that you might wonder, “What the heck is that?” That district managed to elect the incumbent Republican. He also managed to get indicted. Besides getting indicted he got convicted. When it became an open seat it was won by a Democrat. So the Republicans lost that seat. The irony to me is that in trying to do this trendmap [?], they put the town of Eastchester into this district and took it out of the district with which it was associated previously because it was Nick Spano's district. Because of that Nick Spano got beat too. So by trying to stretch the envelope, they really wound up losing seats. Any rate, I probably got to stop because I [inaudible]. I talked too long.
Barbara: Thank you very much, Bill. I think you can appreciate the historian that Bill is and also the role he plays in the Assembly [inaudible].
Mike: Thank you, Barbara. Thank you for holding this conversation today. It is an education locally about this issue. Thank you Assemblyman Parment, for coming and talking to us about this. You are obviously well-schooled and chaired the committee on the details of all these issues, the Supreme Court issues and I'm very glad to hear that, having chaired a committee here in Tompkins County, of the legislature. We ran into some of these issues but not on such a large scale, so I had some familiarity with that. You said you wanted to dwell on the good, the bad, and the ugly, whichever way you want to look at it.
Short of holding a constitutional convention that will reform our New York State Legislature—and constitutional modes of government, I can't think of a single reform issue is more important than to reform the way we mold our districts in this area. I am fully aware of the core of restrictions on that. I think politics plays too big a part in that.
I'd like to commend to everybody who hasn't has a chance to look at it, the book, by the former state senator, Seymour P. Lachman, who was from Brooklyn and who was on the legislature for over 10 years, I believe. He was a state senator. He wrote a book called “Three Men in a Room”. If you haven't had a chance to read that, please do. It is not a difficult book. It is an eye-opener.
I wanted to start this afternoon by just reading a passage from that book, which I think just shows the political invasiveness in the redistricting process that exists. He writes:
Many legislators, of course, not only meet on the floor of the chambers but also see one another at social gatherings.
At one such event a prominent philanthropist mentioned to me that Senator Bruno wanted to meet with me in his office.
Let me say again or say for the first time that Senator Lachman was and is a democrat.
Bruno was a loquacious, robust man with thick, high wrap of white hair. He raised road horses on his ranch in New Brunswick County. His party usually caters to business interests, mine to union interests, although the powerful health care workers' union was a happy beneficiary of his 2002 support of Pataki's third term. Still many who disagreed with him on political issues respected him.
This was in the spring of 2002, a redistricting year. The conversation quickly turned from pleasantries to his party's efforts to gain a seat in the New York City area during that year's November elections.
He explained that his staff was in the process of redrawing the boundaries of several city districts to put pressure on Democrats, under what amounts to the legal gerrymandering that occurs every 10 years in response to shifts in population tracked by the US Census Bureau. It's a process that's supposed to assure that minorities' voting rights are not diminished by demographic changes. For Bruno, I felt, the goal was to strengthen the precarious Republican majority in the senate, at any cost, by redrawing districts to better suit him.
Like so much else in Albany, the reapportion of the process is misused. In Brooklyn, Bruno sought to create a new Republican seat, especially since he realized he probably couldn't maintain control of former Republican Senator Roy Goodman's seat in Manhattan, the one that Liz Krueger, an independently wealthy liberal who had spent years directing a distinguished hunger-fighting organization, ultimately filled in a special election in 2003, after Goodman's retirement.
“You're a reputable guy,” Bruno told me, showing me a copy of the Brooklyn redistricting map, which didn't include my name in my own district, yet included the name of a nominally Democratic councilman who planned to run for the legislature that fall—though, in the end, unsuccessfully. “We'll give you the safest Democratic seat in Brooklyn.”
He also suggested an additional $2 or $3 million in member items that would come my way if I switched parties. “All you have to do is either become a Republican or do what we tell you to do, such as supporting me as majority leader,” he said. I was speechless in response, which isn't like me.
Soon, Governor Pataki was part of the discussion. He called, and Bruno put him on the speaker phone. “We'd love to have you in the Republican Party,” the governor intoned, after exchanging pleasantries with Bruno and me. Bruno chatted with the governor some more. When Bruno hung up the speaker phone, I sat there staring at the majority leader and feeling disconcerted. I recovered soon enough. “No deal,” I thought. “I have always been a Democrat, and I will remain a Democrat,” I told the majority leader, and I walked out.
What happened in that meeting and in that election year, in my small portion of the state, was interesting for what it said about the gamesmanship that characterized Albany. My largely white, Italian-American, black, Latino, and Jewish Brooklyn base and voters, where I was a fairly popular figure due to years of constituent work, was cut into several areas by Bruno. One of the largest Jewish communities in the country became part of four, some critics say five, districts, instead of the one I had represented, a dilution that was a blow to its political clout.
It remained in the Borough Park, Coney Island, and Bensonhurst areas of Brooklyn, and was additionally shoehorned into an entirely new swath within the north shore of Staten Island, across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Sunset Park was substituted for Windsor Terrace, and Brighton was taken out of the district entirely, drawing districts for political advantage.”
What we have is broken, and we ought to fix it. I'm talking about the New York State legislature, both the Senate and the Assembly. With the possible exception of those sitting legislators from both the Democratic and Republican parties whose primary focus is first and foremost “What's best for my reelection?” we are hard-pressed to find many who support the mire of gridlock that has replaced the functioning of what used to be the most innovative and progressive legislature in America.
In 2004, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law did an exhaustive study of the New York state legislative process. Its basic conclusion was that New York has the most dysfunctional legislature in the United States.
It outlined the dysfunction of legislative committees, the barriers to consideration of legislation by the full senate and assembly, the lack of debate of amendments and of adequate review of legislation-too often hurried to a vote-the lack of conference committees, and the high financial cost of the legislature's inefficiency. The report made many recommendations for reform; most have not been implemented.
The members of the Senate and Assembly had ceded all real power, through their secret caucuses, called conferences, to the Majority Leader of the Senate and the Speaker of the Assembly. These men-and it's men, at this time-wield absolute power, life and death, over every piece of legislation that is offered. Meeting with the governor, whoever it happens to be, they bargain deals, bill by bill.
Sadly, however, important issues never come to vote, due to partisan gridlock between Democratic-controlled Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate. Major, vital issues die for lack of compromise or agreement, without ever a two-house vote. The legislators are kept in line. They learned early on that to get along, they must go along with the position adopted by the leaders and the conference.
Heaven help them if they don't. They are punished, denied chairmanships and other positions that carry lulus, which mean higher salaries.
The leaders can deny them member items, those popular local grants that help a variety of entities and projects within local districts. Members' bills would be bottled up and not voted on. Important home-grown legislation that each member must carry for local municipalities, such as the biannual common sales tax reauthorizations, can be held hostage.
Money for staff is handed out through the leaders' offices, along with the money for newsletters and publications. Statements and press releases may have to be approved by a leader's staffs. In our own 125th Assembly District, we saw former Assemblyman Martin Luster punished when he supported a change of assembly leadership. I'm glad you survived that, Marty.
The system is fueled by the domination of incumbent legislators. New legislators appear rarely, except when there are vacancies caused by death or retirement. Many incumbents are followed by hand-picked replacements. Three Tompkins county legislators got their jobs after having been employees of the staff of retiring popular legislators—and who, of course, endorsed them.
There are many reforms that are needed to correct inefficiencies in the New York state legislature, but none is more fundamental than to correct the process of how Senate, Assembly, and Congressional districts are drawn.
In the early 1960s, the United States Supreme Court ruled that both houses of state bicameral legislatures had to be elected by population distributed into generally equal districts. Before that, for example, Senators were elected from geographic areas, like counties, without regard to population. The rule basically made an anachronism of New York's two-house legislature.
Why two? Consider that we elect both Senators and members of Assembly at the same election every two years. All members of each house are elected simultaneously, and no terms are staggered. Legislators all receive the same base salary. The sole difference is that there are fewer Senators from larger geographic districts and more Assemblymen and Assemblywomen from smaller districts. There are 212 total districts, 150 in the Assembly, and 62 in the Senate.
Since the 1970s, and even more so since the redistricting that took place after the 1980 federal census, there has evolved a fundamental deal in the New York State Legislature. It goes like this. The legislature must redistrict every 10 years, and the governor must approve the plan. Three counties in New York City had to meet federal muster for representation of minorities, under the Federal Voting Rights Act.
The Senate is controlled by the Republicans, and the Assembly by the Democrats. The Republicans draw district lines to favor their incumbents and to keep voting control of the senate, and the Democrats do the same with the assembly districts to keep control there. The congressional districts, because both houses must agree, are a little fairer, but their irregular shapes makes campaigning in them very difficult for challengers, as Assemblyman Parment just demonstrated with his maps.
It's called gerrymandering, and it is done as a science, complete with the latest computer technology.
In 2006, the Brennan Center, in a report that was endorsed by good government groups, like the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the New York Public Interest Research Group, and the Citizens Union, issued a report critical of New York State's redistricting process. Calling the report “unfair advantage,” it found that only 29 of the 212 legislative districts, that's 14 percent, were within one percent of their ideal population size-this was in 2006-because of dips in population since 2000.
Greater deviations, although legal, were to the advantage of incumbents, by cutting out voters likely to make races more competitive. The report found that only 25 of the 212 districts-11 percent-had close Republican and Democratic voter enrollments. The other had population and voter enrollments strongly favoring one party or the other. The report recommended that New York state create an independent redistricting commission to redraw districts.
The issue became a part of reform discussions during the 2006 gubernatorial election, with the candidates favoring it. In January of 2007, Governor Eliot Spitzer proposed an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission in his State of the State speech.
Such a commission would draw districts that would be more competitive. More competitive districts would make incumbents more answerable to constituents. Tough questions, like court-ordered school funding, mandated Medicaid reform, health care, and voting processes in compliance with the Help America Vote Act, might not be readily ignored, as they are now. The legislature might actually have to act like one, beginning to legislate more like our United States Congress.
I support Governor Spitzer's call for an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission. It's time to act. The details need to be agreed to, and I'm not minimizing the difficulty of that discussion. The entire process needs to start now, and the commission needs to be established well before redistricting for the 2012 elections commences. I would like to see all New York State legislators pledge to support this. It's the right thing to do for the people.
I thought about this, and Barbara said, I was the one that, back in January, wrote a letter to the Ithaca Journal and the Cortland Standard and said - this was right after the State of the State speech - and said Governor Spitzer got elected with 70 percent mandate of the people in New York State running on a reform platform. People had been just overwhelmed by the problems of the legislature barely meeting budget deadlines, failure to act on a lot of important legislation. They were really upset about that. They looked to Governor Spitzer because he talked about change. One of the changes he recommended was this intended nonpartisan redistricting committee.
There are two states that have these kind of commissions or something similar, that's Iowa and Arizona. Iowa has a truly non-partisan commission which was basically a – if you think about everything Assemblyman Parment just told us, and think about a commission unrelated to the legislature or the Governor who sets about doing the math, finds the court cases, and coming up with districts that are compact, that are cohesive, that pass muster under federal authority representation requirements, etc. Arizona is the other one that has a commission system.
If you could have districts that have a better relationship with voters to make them more competitive, the Assembly people and Senators will have to spend more time listening to what their people say and not necessarily surviving the election. Maybe some incumbents will be overturned and maybe that's not a bad thing.
The other districts that we've talked about you will see that the maps – and thanks to Simon St.Laurent for doing some maps and handing them out today. One of our favorite, of courses, our own Senator Jim Seward's district, which is the 51st. If you look at it on the map, it's been compared to looking like Abraham Lincoln riding a vacuum cleaner. That is not something that I just made up, it is something that other people have said.
The problem with these district that are so misshapen is that it is very, very difficult for anyone to run against the incumbent in such a district. There is such a huge geographical distance to cover. The media markets may be very wide spaced. The people who are on the news in one place, may not be heard at the other end of your district at all. So, that gravitates toward the incumbents.
Many incumbents do a good job. I am not here to criticize any particular person or people, but I am here to say that we need to begin change in our state governments. The state constitution is almost a joke. About a hundred times it's been amended, changed, and it is time that that was reviewed. The Assembly and the Senate could put the proposition on the map for next year or the year after if they wanted to do that. Fortunately, at least by 2017 we will get another chance to vote whether there should be a constitutional convention.
When I wrote to the papers in January, I asked for responses from the legislators representing Tompkins County and the legislators representing Cortland County. You might be interested to know what I heard.
My question to them was “Will you state publicly if you support Governor Spitzer's plan for an independent redistricting, a non-partisan redistricting commission? Barbara, I really appreciate the fact that you responded, responded publicly and you said that you wanted to learn more about the issue, that you had an open mind about it, and I thank you for that.
Senator James Seward wrote me a letter and basically said, “Well if we don't have it the way it is now, how are we going to ever get any Republican districts in New York City.” I didn't hear from Senator Finch anything of course. I did hear from Senator McCole, whose very unusual 129th district has a part of Cortland County, and he said he supported it. He's a Republican. He said he supported the Governor's plan. In Tompkins County, of course, Senator Seward is also our senator here.
Senator Winner, I did not hear anything from, until a couple of weeks ago at the city room he had a town meeting and I came and asked him point blank the question. Basically he said that he thought by having the legislature running the re-districting that that allowed a congressional seat to form os that the whole public could be kept in the area of his constituency and that he liked the way that it was. Senator Mike Nozzolio has Lansing and has that one little chunk of Tompkins County, wrote me a letter and said, “I don't support gerrymandering.” That's sort of saying, “I like mom and apple pie.” But that was the response. I thought people might like to hear that.
Will redistricting be a panacea? No. Will it be a start? Yes. Other reforms are necessary: clean money legislation, like changing the rules of operation of the Senate and the Assembly to make things actually happen, the conference committees that really have duties and responsibilities and bring legislation forward, the debating the minutes. All of these things can happen.
Those are the kinds of issues that I am interested in and why I am pleased to be here today to talk about that. I don't claim to be an expert on any of this, other than someone who has made a study of some of it. I would be glad to answer any questions or comments. OK? Thank you.
Barbara: Thank you, Mike. I don't want to get us bogged down because I want people to go over to discussion. Obviously I agree with some of the things that Mike had to say here. I take issue with some of it, I think some of it, at least in relation to the Assembly, is old news. There has been a good deal of reform in the past four or five years.
We had a great deal more in conference committees. There's a lot more openness in various areas. In many cases when we put forward the Assembly bills that became Senate bills. Frankly, I think the Assembly is much more forward looking, very reformist, than the Senate. It is very hard to get new law done. Anyway, I didn't come prepared to discuss all those other reform Michael proposed on the agenda today. I wanted to – the agenda today is redistricting. We don't have time for that anyway . I'd like to ask Bill to respond to some of these issues on redistricting, especially.
Bill: There are a couple of things that I wanted to speak about to you earlier today. If you look at the two congressional maps I handed out.
Bill: I want you to look at the total population of the 28th District. You will see that it is 654,360 people. If you look at the District 22, you will see it is 654,361 people. Looking back to Carson vs. Bradley, we interpret the case law to say, districts have to be narrowly equal to satisfy the court. That's impossible because when you divide the total population of New York State by the number of congressional seats - I think it's 29 - there is a remainder of 13. So, 13 of the districts have an additional individual. The others are a base number. So we have opted for absolute numerical equality.
You may wonder, “How can you do that?” Well it's not easily done. To do it, you have to subdivide townships. So if you look at these congressional districts, they kind of squiggle through townships. The goal was to keep them absolutely equal in population.
The same basic thing takes place in the City of New York, within the counties. We opted for a plan that did not have, with one exception, legislators crossing over the boundary of the county line. New York gets five counties. Richmond County had not enough people for four districts, but too many for three and so Richmond County and Brooklyn were joined. They are the only two that were joined.
When you go to Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx, all the districts contain more than in those counties. When that happens the block-on-border rule kicks into effect so you come up with numeric equality on those. For instance, in Queens, the largest assembly district by population is 123,859 individuals. The smallest is 123,850. The deviation is nine people. You can see that the district is a very tight with population. I wanted to point that out, and that comes about because the block-on-border rule from the New York State constitution.
Just glancing at this thing from the Citizen's Union, I thought, “Shoot, if I'd known I'd have this here I would've prepared my handout. This is pretty good, covers the waterfront. [Inaudible.] Redistricting reform. I have publically disagreed with Governor Spitzer, done so in person. He talked at our conference last December. At that point I cautioned him on redistricting reform as he envisioned it, and a couple other reforms he had in mind too, as a matter of fact.
I oppose this notion that we should delegate our authority for redistricting to “independent, nonpartisan” towns, and I do so for a lot of reasons. But I guess just to sum it up principally is that redistricting is a political decision process that I think is best undertaken by people elected by the people that they represent. And, I was chosen by 126,000 individuals to represent them in the process.
And, I think that it's my responsibility to do my best to reflect their interests. And, if I delegate that to a mathematical, mechanical or – what would I say – independent group, there's no assurance that my constituents' views will be represented in the process, other than my fond hope that perhaps the people we delegate the thing to will be worldly, scholarly, and reasonably attentive to the community constituencies around the state.
It's inherently a political process. We are a representative democracy. For that democracy to work, representatives have to exercise their judgment based on the constituencies that, that put them into the position and, and so I oppose this notion that we turn our process over to some other group.
Partly, my suspicion is that they would be – what would I say – turning, turning it over to somebody other's politics than my own. I trust my politics more than I trust the politics of others. My politics have been honed over 40 years of public service in the trenches – knocking on doors, talking to people, circulating petitions – constantly in the public eye – constantly having to argue public issues – publically. And I really think that that system best serves our, our state and our nation.
There is a notion in all of this that somehow incumbents advantage themselves. To the extent that they're able – that they do – that they do and will – they will and do. But incumbency is not an evil.
For those of you who have read the Federalist Papers, you know that these issues were discussed in the Federalist Papers. And discussions then were basically on the basis of whether there should be limitations on the terms of the members of the House of Representatives concerned. And the Federalist Papers in their arguments and the Constitutional Convention rejected basically that notion, which was called rotation of office, was a notion that was basically supported in those days by the Anti-Federalists, who feared strong legislatures. They wanted to rotate officeholders because they wanted legislative bodies to remain weak.
And I think that the principles are still the same. If you have continual churning, rotation, of people representative of communities, then, not only the legislature will be weakened but, the communities are weakened. Because they do not have consistent strong voices representing their decision in a body where that representative has the understanding that they will continue in office.
I always put it in kind of a question mode, you know, a rhetorical question. Can you think of anything lamer than a lame-duck congressman? No one's going to pay attention to a lame-duck congressman. He picks up the phone – Department of Housing – “Hey, this is Joe. You already called my charity but we'd like you to help us out.” The permanent government is going to shut those guys down. They're going to say, “We'll wait for the next guy. We don't like this guy, don't need him over our appropriations.”
Rotation of office, as far as I'm concerned, has a tendency to put more power in the hands of the executive branch, and particularly, power in the hands of the permanent government, which is the civil servants, dah dad dah dah dah. I think that people need to have continual opportunity for their voices to be heard. The best way for that to be done is to have representatives who are reflective of their communities, who will stand for office on a frequent basis - in our case they're every two years - who had the opportunity to return to Washington to have that capacity of voice, if necessary, for those communities to be heard.
And I just think the notion of turning legislative re-districting over to some yet-to-be selected group of non-interested persons defeats that notion.
Barbara: Disinterested people?
Bill: Well, apparently, they'd have to be disinterested to be nonpartisan and independent. Oh, I'd fully be interested in what public betterment, but, they can't be interested in what? I mean, there's so many things that they shouldn't be interested in to be independent.
I can make the same arguments about the elected judiciary which additionally [inaudible]. The Governor wants merit selection, right, of the judiciary? Well, when they say merit selection, that's sort of end of argument. How can you be opposed in merit selection? Of course you want merit selection, when all of the best judges – well, they hold a merit? When you say merit selection, then, it's inoperative, as far as I can see.
What I think of as merits is that [inaudible] seem to appoint the judges and somebody else's politics take over for the electorate. Now I went through this process through all these many years.
When I first started running for office, I still remember in 1974 I campaigned with Lawrence Cook – Larry Cook. He was the Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals. And we had Dominic Berenello from up the road here in Hammond – not Hammondsport, in Bath who was a judge for the Court of Appeals.
But the reform element decided that wasn't a good system. Even though New York State's Court of Appeals had been the second most prestigious court in the land for decades, probably over a hundred years, second only to the U.S. Supreme Court. People like Learned Hand and Spinoza have served on that court. It was an elected court. No, it wasn't good enough for the reformers. They wanted them appointed. So we went to an appointed system. Well, who appoints them? The Governor and they're confirmed by the State Senate.
Well, many of you have probably heard of a fiscal equity question where this group in New York sued the state saying the school formula awarding money was not apolitical. Community for Fiscal Equity.
Barbara: Campaign for Fiscal Equity.
Bill: Campaign for Fiscal Equity. And they won. And then they argue about, well, what is fair? And Campaign for Fiscal Equity said, I think, it was eight billion. The governor's saying, “Ah, that's an outrageous number.”
Barbara: Governor Pataki.
Bill: Governor Pataki. It went back and forth for literally 12 years.
There was a judge on the Court of Appeals named Bundy Smith who served well, distinguished. He's up for reappointment. Didn't get appointed. The Governor instead appointed a man who at one time had been an assistant county attorney, and then was appointed to the State Supreme Court to fill a vacancy, then reported to the appellate division – that is, director of the appellate court, and then he was appointed to the State Court of Appeals – all like a skipping stone as far as I'm concerned – about a five-year period.
He wound up on the Court of Appeals just in time to cast the deciding, five/four vote – the fifth vote for the notion that the Campaign for Fiscal Equity should only have three billion instead of eight billion, and wrote the opinion of the court to that effect. And he just happened to be right there as the appointee of the Governor who opposed the Committee for Fiscal Equity for all those years.
So I see that as part of the evil of saying, ‘Wait am minute, we're going to reform ourselves. We're going to have this merit-selected judiciary.' I think the same thing happens when you say, ‘Let's have an independent group, who's selected by merit, to tell us where our legislative boundaries should be.' I think that the people, exercising their franchise, directing their legislators, should make that choice.
I know it's not a perfect system, and there's a lot of self-serving elements being a legislator and making this type of judgment. But I still think it's a better system, and it's very much in line with what I think of our representative democracy.
Barbara: Well, let's open it up to the floor. Simon, do you want to start?
Simon St.Laurent: Yes, I think that Senator Parment spent a great deal of time avoiding the elephant in the room, which is that it's hard to imagine a system that's worse than the Senate drawing the line for the Senate, the Assembly drawing the line for the Assembly. I don't think that the Assembly should actually have the right to complain about the Senate any longer, because they drew the line that gave the Senate their Republicans and approved them.
Objections to the Independent Commission notwithstanding, I look at these maps – and maybe it's the colors I chose – but this is really not apparent, this is not explainable, except in terms of hacking and cracking. Which Senator Parment said was prohibited in all these, but appears to be perfectly fine on voter performance.
Honestly, trying to justify this system seems impossible. And Assemblyman Parment's bringing out the point of the court positions seems like an attempt to talk about anything else that's more comfortable.
Assemblyman Parment: Well, perhaps it's a different issue in regard to what I'd be happy to sponsor on the redistricting thing. I used the court because it's another model of the state where the reformers told us how much better it was going to be, and it wasn't better. As far as I'm concerned it's worse. In fact our court now, I think, is less prestigious than it ever was back when it was an elected court.
So I use that as an example of, beware what reformers tell you is better for you.
Now, you bring up the fact that we allow the Senate to draw the Senate line and the Assembly to draw the Assembly line – this is true. And that is in part because we've had a divided government for the longest period of time of any state in the nation. [laughter] When the Republicans had control of both houses, of course, then the Republican Party was in charge of both the Assembly and the Senate. And if Governor Spitzer has his way the Senate would be Democratic and by the time we get to redistricting we'll have problems dealing with a bicameral government that is in the hands of one party. Which presents different challenges, but probably would have somewhat the same outcomes.
One of the things we don't hear much about is why the Democratic Party has not challenged the Republican Senate? And it has always been a puzzlement to the Committee that Republicans are elected in legislative districts in the city that are three- to four-to-one Democratic, without real big opposition.
Well, that's some kind of accomodation between the two parties in the city that really doesn't have much to do with the district. If you're casting this argument in terms of partisanship, I would challenge anyone to draw a Democratic district in Steuben County or anybody to draw a Republican district in Brooklyn.
Man: But we can do better than this.
Bill: You might be able to do better than that. I can tell you how the Assembly came about, although I don't know how the Senate did theirs. I know how the Assembly did theirs. The Assembly plan is basically a version of the Republican 1970's plan based on the objections of the Republican caucus to the Democratically proposed plan.
When we drew the plan originally, a lot of the untidiness if you want to call it that, the strange shapes in central New York, did not appear. The Republican Party in the Assembly objected vociferously because it cast 24 of their 48 members in primary contests. So, there was accommodation made for the Republican party in the Assembly to allow them basically to redraw the Assembly Republican districts in a manner that cut primaries down to about three or four – I forget exactly.
You could say, “That's an awful system.” And perhaps an independent council would have said, “No, we're going to go forward with this nice and fair plan that the Assembly Democrats drew that's going to force 24 Republicans into primaries.”
Man: Perhaps an independent commission would draw up a different plan in the first place. [inaudible]
Bill: You know I really believe this. I think that if an independent commission had drawn the plan in the first place, they'd come pretty close to what we had, meaning what Assembly Democrats had. If you go back and look at our plan, it was a pretty tight and concise plan.
We knew it disadvantaged the Republicans, but here's the question: what if the plan that the League of Women Voters had drawn up had disadvantaged the Republicans to that extent? Is that an improvement? My answer would be no, because we would be basically saying that 12 incumbent Republicans with good instincts and with good service would be forced out because of redistricting simply to satisfy somebody's desire that the district lines look compact or consistent with their notion of what districts should look like.
I have a tendency to think that the middle part of New York State is probably better represented because of the Republican Party's plan. This is despite the fact that that plan resulted in one district, what I call the ugliest district, that goes from just north of Binghamton to over in the Hudson Valley. It's represented now by a guy that's been in government a long time, Peter Lopez. He's spent 25 years working for the Commission on Rural Resources. He's a very knowledgeable guy, and very consistent in the sense of his representation of the people that are in that district.
Now, the shape of it doesn't really look like a consistent district, but I can tell you that the population of that district is very consistent in the sense of being relatively homogeneous in their political views, ethnic and racial background, and their [inaudible]. Even though it is geographically a little bit awkward, in demographics it's a pretty good district.
Man: It's called ‘packing'. I know a lot of people [inaudible]
Bill: No. That was called ‘leftovers.' That was ‘leftovers, ' believe me. That was when I got this strange-looking last district drawn. That was the only thing left to put together, but it's not a bad district.
Barbara: Sorry. We couldn't stay but [inaudible] let's try to get everyone in, at least in this period of time.
Bev Livesay: I would like to make some comments about things that have been said. We've not met.
Barbara: It looks like you have served on the Tompkins county board for how many years now?
Bev Liveay: 24 years, and I've been a member of the League of Women Voters for 50 years.
Back when the county board first became the Legislature instead of supervisors… For several censuses – I'd have to go back and see which years and what changed – but hundreds of Republicans (I'm a Democrat) in this county did appoint an independent committee to look at the re-apportioning. They did a very good job.
Of course, this is a responsibility of the Legislature to do this [inaudible]. That doesn't mean that you can't have proposals put together by citizen committees which then the legislature only has to adopt from out of that. But the point is – it can be done in daylight with citizen input. So, that your constituents and everybody else's constituents can observe the process and have input into it.
Since the Democrats took control over the legislature – and, maybe, it was the legislature before them – I don't remember. That was done later and, it was done strictly by the a Committee. And Mike may have chaired it. I don't remember. But, frankly, I think the independent group did a better job. Now, I don't think that under the Democrats I felt it was done unfairly. I think they were very, very aware of not doing, not getting just a political advantage. But, there were other things that the independent group were bad at. And, you mentioned some of them.
So, it seems to me the best system is to have the legislature spell out for all to see what should be taken into account – cohesiveness of districts, and all of the good principles about representation. That's what the commission has to use as a guideline.
Just one little thing, I ran three times for the State Senate from the same area you are running now. I ran in that vacuum cleaner district. That district was changed three times. And, you mentioned keeping districts about the same, and – how as in the Assembly you had done that, and, very little, and, so on. Which, I think is a fine idea, but, that 51st senate district was changed greatly. You know, this stayed the way that it went.
Well, one thing that I was very aware of not only was it the largest district in the state, I believe, at the time – which I ran on – all over – it had no media within the district. There were no cities with major radio or television outlets within the district itself. And, fighting the battle, interesting – the television stations just outside of the district – but, which provided television – couldn't persuade them why we should be interested in the Senate race and the other opponent. You know, it was a difficult thing to do.
So, I think it's fair to say – one big city – if there's a swarm of people around, or, something like that. But, I think that one could sit down and look at things that should have come into account in the thing coming up for these districts.
As far as incumbency is concerned, I would agree with you, if we're talking about term limits. I don't believe in term limits, and the voters decide to limit the terms. But, to build in artificial incumbency, defeats the process of giving the voters an opportunity to even do that.
Incumbency is such a powerful thing – any time of the day on, on several instances where this person should have been out doing their job, but, they don't anyway. I'm not saying, incumbency isn't a – when I say it is a powerful thing isn't necessarily just because a member can draw up the district, and you generally manage your own district. It's powerful just because of acceptance of the person that, Barbara Lifton is the Assemblyperson. And, if people get used to that – they like it – unless she does something terrible. So even the district changes a little bit – this exact one.
So, I think this needs to be reformed. I'm not going to run for anything any longer, so I'm not speaking personally. But, I think that we are not getting representation, and, that we need to if we're going to [inaudible].
I'm sorry – you don't need to respond. I don't want to make this personal. I'm just responding to some of these [inaudible].
Martin: Yes. Some random thoughts – first of all, I need to say hi to Bill – a good friend and colleague for the 14 years that I was in the Assembly. And, before I heard from you – I taught New York Politics for two years at Cornell. And, the worst session of the semester each year was when I had to deal with re-apportionment. Why didn't I ask Bill to come in to teach that? You know? I could have had a nice dinner with him and a nice evening. So, thanks very much to you, Bill.
To just a range of thought – first of all, I don't know what independent means and I don't know what non-partisan means. Does that mean that any person that belongs to that body cannot be enrolled in the party? And if it doesn't mean that, won't it be a natural tendency to try to count up the same number of Republicans and the same number of Democrats so, that it's even, and, that it appears to be even. And, thereby, converting this independent, nonpartisan body into a bi-partisan body – which is different than nonpartisan. We have a bi-partisan body now that does this.
So, that's just one point. The other is that – whoever makes this decision whether it's the legislature or an outside body – they are still bound by precedents, by rules, by regulations, by federal law. It is that process that really guides the function of whoever performs this task.
That's going to change from time to time. The rules are different now than they were in 1972. The norm of representation was – it used to be, I think with their original representation used to be where it had to, it had to create districts in where minorities have a new opportunity of electing their own from that district.
And now the rules and the precedents and the regulations seem to be going in the other direction, saying – well, you can take race into account, but it can't be the sole factor. so these things change from time to time much as our understanding and interpretation of the Constitution changes from time to time. It is a living thing. It's a changing thing.
And, perhaps the best way – this is just a thought and I have no firm conviction on this issue, one way or the other – but, perhaps a legislative body is best able to react to those changes, as opposed to an appointed so-called independent, nonpartisan body that will be more mechanical in its operation, rather than respond to these changes as they occur from time to time.
Bill: Yes, Marty, one of things you said in the [inaudible] jarred my mind. One of the things that changed in redistricting in the computer age is that there is a greater ability of the public to be involved in the process. And in 19 -or, the 2002 process, was probably the first computer-interactive process, I think. I don't think that it was computer-interactive in ‘92.
But because of the Internet and the computer, groups that are interested are much more able to criticize what the task force on redistricting – or I call re-districting re-apportionment – was doing and there are some very successful, highly-organized groups that do challenge what you do. There's the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund is one of the groups. NAACP is another group.
But, what we did in ‘90 – or, in 2002 – was to make our computer files available to any group that wanted them so that they had the same database that we had. And I should mention that the task force on re-apportionment is a, a standing task force with professional employees who are non-partisan. There was a Co-Executive Director one Republican chose and one Democrat chose and some of the issues were on the Senate viewpoint. And, they direct a staff of demographers, cartographers, other scientists, and computer experts. I think there were about 25 people on that staff, as I remember. And, they're housed in New York City in their office at 250 Broadway.
But, they are not chosen on a basis of partisan politics. They're chosen because of their specialties. I, I really don't even know those people, but, they are the ones that do all of the intricate computer work. And, and, so, I think it is a better – a better system now because the public has access to both that group and to those of us who are drawing lines through the computer.
And, the other thing, of course, was the idea that – it is a public process. We know that we held 22 public hearings on this plan before its enactment. And, there were several cases where we altered the plan based on the public hearing.
I can remember one, particularly in Brooklyn, where we had separated Denver Hill from its traditional base of community activities. And, they petitioned us to re-do it. And Joan Millman's district here – we call Joan Millman – “Brownstone Joan” – I don't know if you knew that. But, anyway, Brownstone Joan came to us and said, you know, say, you're including Denver Hill in the wrong district. And, and, when we were calling a hearing, we heard that. And, we went back and re-did it so, that Denver Hill wound up in the district where it was historically located.
So, there is a responsiveness to those kinds of issues that obviously any group could make. I think legislators are more apt to make them because they are keenly aware of the complex nature of communities and how communities represent themselves and interact with their government.
Mike: You know, an independent nominated commission doesn't have to be created out of whole cloth here in New York State. There are those two other examples out there that had the same kind of naysayers -in Arizona and Iowa – that we have now in New York, critically, in their legislature. But, those systems have been operating for some time now and people just take them as a given out there. We can look at some of those examples.
And I said in my remarks I'm not minimizing the fact that it's going to take some tough negotiating to come up with exactly the structure of an independent, bi-part, nonpartisan, nominating commission. That's going to be tough. But, if we don't say we're going to do it it's never going to happen. Things have gotten too comfortable where we are.
Incumbency is just too comfortable. Of course, the incumbents don't want to have redistricting. They like where they are. They know their district. They know their people. They don't want to be threatened. They like their jobs. They think they're doing a good job and most of them are doing a good job but is that the best we can do in New York State?
I don't think so.
Barbara: I guess one of my questions is as I've listened to all this discussion – we'll wrap up if you can stay…
I appreciate very much hearing the different points of view here. It certainly helps me. I hope it's helpful to the people in the audience. I'm going to continue to look at this. One of the questions that comes to mind is when you talk about how the model, Iowa for instance, is “it's a successful model.”
Well, how do we know it's successful? I never heard anyone, you know, done the studies, written a book and say well this works better because of this. Well, what results have there been that we can actually look at and say well this is working better than ours. I just get told how this is a successful model, but no one is giving me anything that says, “Well, here's the proof of the success of it.”
Bill: You know my position so my remark is probably prejudiced by my position. Forgive me. There's a line out of the Wizard of Oz, I think… Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore. Iowa, is not New York State and neither is Arizona.
I can probably sit down and do Iowa's congressional thing in about two days. New York is a much different situation. There's no state in the Union I'm aware of that has the kind of diversity that is so [inaudible]. You got New York City and you got the rest of us, but we're all in the same system and for instance, what drove the Assembly plan in 2002? In 2002, it was the decrease in the African-American population in central Brooklyn. Now, that's where the plan started and what did it affect? It affected all of us because African-American certainly decreased. We could not retrogress. We could not say make one less minority/majority seat in Brooklyn. We had to figure out a way to keep the same number of majority/minority seats.
What that meant was that Brooklyn could not be the small end of the population, they're not the smallest, the Bronx is the smallest. Brooklyn has 121,000 and I have 126,000. What that basically did was make a shift of seats from the upstate region to the city of four seats.
This is a battle I fought and fought and fought. Finally, I won one seat and I convinced my colleagues that we could take a seat from Nassau and Suffolk, and transfer it to Queens, which is what we did and that's where the Asian seat came from in Queens. The Long Island delegation didn't like it, but they sat still for it, and so we moved a seat, from Nassau-Suffolk to Queens, saving upstate one seat, but the driving factor was a reduction in the African-American population in Brooklyn.
You think to yourself, well how can I as an incumbent take advantage of this system. I can't. The system disadvantaged me. The first set of plans that I drew had my district at about 124,000 people and I deliberately started drawing plans that would make the population in the seats Upstate small so because of the increase in the population in New York and the decrease upstate, we wouldn't lose Assembly seats upstate.
I couldn't make it work because we have to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings about retrogression in regard to majority/minority districts. How'd I get started on this. It's a very complicated state.
It's not Iowa. It's not Arizona. Have you ever gone to Arizona? You got Las Vegas, you got Reno and everything else is wide open spaces. How many seats they have in Congress? Three. Iowa has got 10, maybe if that eight. You could say the model works. You know what if we had a state that was “Everything west of Syracuse”. That model would work, but that model going to be be very challenged when you combine it with a state that has a city the size of New York in its complexities, and the rest of the state. The only state that even approaches our complexities is California and I don't think California is as complex. For one thing, everyone lives within five miles of the ocean. The rest of it's desert.
And in New York, we literally live all over the place. It's a huge state.
Barbara: Bill, thank you. As I said, this is two or three years out. We don't know what the timeline is going to be, but we're still in 2007 here.
Bill: [inaudible, laughter]
Barbara: I see this as an on-going discussion and I'm eager to hear back from people. I'm going to be studying it more closely and read my [inaudible] that I haven't read yet. Thank you all for coming and participating. Thank you.