Albany is Still a Mess!
Very soon voters in New York State will once again head to the polls to vote in the upcoming Election. While I am NOT a candidate for office this year, the season brings me back to 2010 when I was a candidate for the New York State Assembly. It also reminds me of how dysfunctional our state government still is and how hard it will be to fix it.
In the two years since I ran for the Assembly, our state government in Albany has once again been a miserable failure and remains a cesspool of corruption. Two years ago nearly every candidate from Montauk to Buffalo was a self-proclaimed “Independent Reformer.” These charlatans promised to reign in the lobbyists and special interests, to institute independent redistricting and pass ethics laws to curb the corruption in Albany. None of that happened in the last session of the legislature.
Lobbyists and special interests still buy and own our politicians. Many times it’s not the most informed candidates who win an election. It’s also not the most well-intentioned candidates who win elections. Instead, most of the time it’s the candidate who is best at selling his or her soul to the monied lobbyists and special interests who get elected. Once these rascals get to Albany, instead of writing and passing legislation for the betterment of their communities and our state, they push legislation and push contracts that support their financial backers.
Regarding independent redistricting, while in 2010 nearly every candidate signed Mayor Koch’s pledge to pass an independent redistricting law, once they got to Albany the same folks forgot their pledge and saddled our state with hideous, politically motivated districts for the next ten years. Instead of having an independent commission draw district lines that are concise and compact and keep communities together, we once again have politically motivated districts that snake through and divide communities in order to protect the incumbent representative’s re-election prospects.
The worst act of insult was the legislatures passage of a joke of an ethics law. The law did nothing to stop the corruptive influence of dirty money in Albany. No one cared to pass campaign finance laws to stop the corruption. No one cared to close the loopholes that monied interests use to by-pass the current campaign finance laws. No one passed any laws to stop the revolving door between government officials and the lobbyists.
My suggestion to the winners of the 2012 state elections is to go to Albany and actually do something! I suggest you start with three important pieces of legislation.
1. It’s time to pass real campaign finance reform that eliminates the strangle hold that lobbyists and special interests have on our politicians. Arizona, Maine and Connecticut each have enacted public financing of elections laws that have worked. It is time to create such a program for New York. It’s time that politicians answer to the people that vote for them and not the people who finance their political campaigns.
2. While it won’t help for until the next decade, Albany must pass an independent redistricting law now so that we don’t have to deal with the political shenanigans that we witnessed this year.
3. Finally, Albany should pass an ethics reform bill that will include a truly independent investigative body and bars anyone on the state payroll from lobbying the state for a full five years after the leave the employ of the state.
I understand that these three laws will not fix all of the problems in Albany but I believe they would be a good first move forward. It’s time for the voters of New York to wake up and demand good government. Until we make that demand, we will continue to have to live with do-nothing politicians that are puppets of the lobbyists and special interests, Albany will continue to be the cesspool of corruption it is and we will continue to get our nearly weekly press reports of some politician being indicted, convicted or sent off to a prison in an orange jumpsuit.
My Testimony to New York State’s LATFOR on the Proposed Gerrymandered State Districts
The Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment’s
Congressional and State Legislative Redistricting
February 7, 2012
Thank you for allowing me to testify.
In 1987, as a young Political Science undergraduate student at the University at Albany, I wrote a paper whereby I suggested that New York State implement a system of independent redistricting of state and congressional districts. At the time, the state of Iowa was the only state with such a system. Today, in the year 2012, I would like to thank LATFOR for unquestionably proving the thesis of my college paper. LATFOR, by proposing these lines, has shown the citizens of New York State that our government in Albany is incapable of controlling itself and the New York State Senate and Assembly are incapable of representing their constituents and instead are more interested in political self dealing and political self preservation.
The district lines proposed by LATFOR are despicable. Over the years, The Breenan Center for Justice has called our New York State government the “most dysfunctional” state government in the nation. The district lines we are discussing today are prima facie evidence that this dysfunction is still alive and well.
In a state where it seems that every week another elected official in Albany is either indicted or convicted, it is time for our legislators to show some interest in good government. Albany has become a cesspool of corruption. The lines that have been produced by LATFOR have clearly been designed to protect incumbents from being challenged, to protect the majorities held in each house of the legislature and to punish that political enemies of the minority party of each house. This is no way to resolve the dysfunction that pervades our state government.
In 2010, when I was a candidate for New York State Assembly, I signed a pledge to a group led by former Mayor Ed Koch that, if elected, I would support independent redistricting. Nearly every member of the Senate and the Assembly also signed such a pledge. Where is the independent redistricting you promised? Do you have to make it so obvious that your word means nothing?
The New York State Constitution establishes that districts must be “in as compact form as practicable.” Does anyone in his or her right mind believe that these districts are “compact” in any sense of the word? These lines represent a “complete departure” from any understanding of compactness using the words of the 1972 decision in Schneider v. Rockefeller, 31 N.Y.2d 420, 430 (1972). The citizens of New York deserve districts that are compact.
The state constitution also requires that state legislative districts be composed of “contiguous territory.” A contiguous district is one in which it is possible to travel from any point in the district to any other point in the district without crossing the district boundary. Historically, LATFOR has twisted this idea of contiguity using highways and inaccessible shorelines to connect unrelated towns and neighborhoods into one district. The citizens of New York deserve districts that are contiguous.
New York State districts are also supposed to be drawn with great deference to county and municipal boundaries. In Queens, special deference should also be paid to our distinct neighborhoods. The lines drafted by LATFOR clearly have not given deference to such boundaries. Districts have been drafted to cross boundaries for nothing other than political gain. The citizens of New York deserve districts that show deference to county, municipal and neighborhood boundaries.
So where does that leave us today? Since we are up against the time constraints brought about by the upcoming primaries, LATFOR must literally go “back to the drawing board” and draft new lines that not only follow the New York State Constitution, but also draft lines that are not politically motivated and will show the rest of the nation that New York is no longer interested in being the most dysfunctional government in the nation. If this proves impossible for the legislature, then Governor Cuomo must veto the districts. Frankly, a court drawn map is better than a politically motivated gerrymandered map drawn by LATFOR.
Going forward, New York State needs to pass a constitutional amendment taking control over the redistricting process away from the legislature and giving it to an independent commission. Many states, including Iowa, can serve as the model. Independent commissioners should be appointed from a pool of qualified candidates and no district lines should be drawn based upon the party enrollment of the voters or of the incumbent legislators. Districts should be compact, contiguous, give deference to county, municipal boundaries neighborhood boundaries and continue the protections of the U.S. Constitution and of the Voting Rights Act.
It is time that New York State changes its dysfunctional ways and starts a path towards good government and reform. The first step towards that goal should now be independent redistricting. With these district lines, LATFOR is aiding and abetting our state’s dysfunction. It’s time for the citizens of New York to stand up and say “enough is enough.” We want good government now!
Can Gingrich Hold National GOP Lead after Florida
Gingrich is ahead of Romney in national polls but Romney is way ahead in Florida. After Romney wins the Florida Primary, Gingrich’s challenge will be to hold his national numbers which may be tough. The interesting factor will be if Santorum exits the race due to his dwindling support and money. Will Santorum’s exit be enough of a bump for Gingrich? If Gingrich get’s a large majority of Santorum’s supporters Willard may be in trouble.
Jon Huntsman to Drop Out of Presidential Race
Jon Huntsman, the most qualified Republican Presidential candidate, and a rare sincere and sane GOP candidate, is dropping out of the 2012 Presidential race according to several sources.
It’s pretty damn obvious that Willard Mitt Romney will be the 2012 Republican Presidential candidate.