Republicans in the state Senate are huffing about constitutional requirements and the need to create new minority voting districts, but the LATFOR plan released this week is really designed to do one simple thing: maintain a fragile GOP majority.
Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in New York state by 2.4 million people — that’s a 59-33% tilt — but Republicans have used gerrymandering for decades to bolster their electoral fortunes.
They currently hold only a one-seat advantage. As the state’s population shifts downstate, and grows more ethnically diverse, this set of maps is a lifeboat designed to keep a half-dozen Senate Republicans from drowning in the demographic flood.
While redrawing the lines this time, Republicans not only created a new Senate district in the Capital district that they are likely to control.
They also edited veteran Democratic lawmakers out of their own districts and pitted at least six Senate Democrats against one another in re-election fights.
Meanwhile, not a single Republican lawmaker faces serious disruption or an intra-party battle.
Some journalists are couching this in sort of a he-said, she-said narrative. As in, “Democrats are crying foul, but Republicans say their hands were forced by the state constitution.”
Please. This is one of those political stories where the real question isn’t motivation, but effectiveness and ramification.
We know what Republicans were trying to do — and we see how they’re trying to do it. Now we’re waiting to find out whether it will work.
First, it’s fair to ask whether in political terms the GOP has simply gone too far. Will these maps prove so extreme that Governor Andrew Cuomo — who was sounding ambivalent — will be left with no option but to exercise a veto?
My sense is that Cuomo has been perfectly happy with a divided legislature, and felt no real zeal for entering into a major constitutional clash with Republicans. Has his hand been forced?
Perhaps if GOP leaders in the Senate had been a little more subtle, they might have preserved their majority without prompting a full-scale political and legal crisis?
Secondly, it’s a simple fact that Democrats in the state Senate have been a pretty inept bunch, blowing their brief majority, then failing to mount any kind of serious fundraising or messaging efforts to regain lost seats.
A friendly redistricting map was really their only hope in 2012.
So are they organized enough to fight this LATFOR plan? This moment will be a big test for them.
If they bungle it, look for Democrats in the Senate to remain sort of institutionalized as the ineffectual opposition party for a long time to come, despite their relatively high popularity.
Finally, it’s only reasonable to point out that this political map, tilted as it is, is great news for the North Country.
If it stands, the plan will almost certainly preserve the majority power of Senators Patty Ritchie, Joe Griffo, Betty Little and Hugh Farley.
And by giving Farley a big new chunk of the region, it will actually expand this region’s voting clout in Albany.
The alternative could well be having only three state Senators reflecting the region, and all of them trapped in the minority. The last time that happened, the North Country lost two state prisons.
Is this process fair? Of course not. But as brazen power grabs go, this one favors the North Country in a big way.