Gipson shrugs off LATFOR proposal
By Tom Casey
Published: Friday, February 3, 2012 2:07 AM EST
COLUMBIA COUNTY — With the release of proposed new district lines by the Senate and Assembly heads in the state Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research, or LATFOR, those seeking office this November are trying to comprehend where they will be running.
In Columbia County, the Democratic challenger for Republican incumbent Steve Saland’s Senate seat, Terry Gipson, said he’ll continue campaigning there despite proposed lines that would sever the county’s ties to the district.
“I’ve been to probably over 100 events in Columbia county, met thousands of people,” said Gipson. “I plan to continue an all-out campaign there until there are official lines drawn that show (these new lines) have been approved.”
Gipson has harshly criticized the proposed lines saying the new districts are unfairly drawn and only serve to protect incumbents.
“You don’t draw lines based on where Republicans and Democrats live, you draw the lines based on communities and population densities. That is critical to keeping a fair process,” said Gipson. “That is not what is going on now … it is essentially an incumbent protection program. You have elected officials drawing district lines and trying to determine who their constituents will be and this is really taking the power away from the people and is, I think, criminal.”
Gipson said the way LATFOR draws the lines discourages many people from running in elections.
“What they are doing is keeping good people throughout the state in all parties from mounting a campaign to run for these offices,” he said. “Imagine how difficult it must be for someone trying to think about whether they want to run for the Senate or not and they don’t even know where the lines are going to be.
“They will have maybe at most two months to mount a campaign against incumbents that have been in office as long as Stephen Saland. It’s completely unfair and every day that goes by gives the incumbents one more advantage over the candidates running against them,” Gipson said.
LATFOR is the legislative task force assigned with the responsibility to draw the lines to reflect population shifts according to the U.S. Census. The process has been viewed by many good government groups as a way to preserve partisan interests because of influences from the Democratic majority in the Assembly and the Republican majority in the Senate.
In a previous interview with the Register-Star, Executive Director of the good government group Citizen’s Union Dick Dadey said the proposed lines were the best case “made for an independent commission to draw the lines.”
“It just goes to show how powerful the responsibility in holding the pen is in drawing these lines,” said Dadey.
Republican Senate spokesman Scott Reif defended the process, calling the lines fair and legal.
“We follow the state and federal constitution, (and) the federal voting rights act,” said Reif. “These are draft lines. We will be holding additional public hearings around the state, we had 14 to assist us in drawing these lines and we are going to continue to seek feedback from the community.”
Gipson said the way the lines were drawn shows feedback was never even considered.
“They’ve spent an enormous amount of money holding these public hearings across the state paying companies to draw these ridiculous lines, listening to input from hundreds and hundreds of people who have come to them and said, ‘here is an example of what fair lines look like, here is a way to go about making fair lines,’” said Gipson. “Then they did exactly the opposite of that, it’s really disappointing, and a complete slap in the face to freedom, to be quite honest.”
Reif said the task force was bipartisan, and from a Senate standpoint a Democrat was on the board as well.
“It has been inclusive, it has been open,” he said.
That Democrat is Senator Martin Dilan, D-Brooklyn, one of 12 plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against LATFOR over the creation of a new 63rd Senate district.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has threatened to veto any proposed lines that appear to be drawn in a partisan fashion. He also introduced a bill that would change the ways the lines are drawn, putting the responsibility to an independent commission.
Gipson said he believes the governor will veto the lines and the district he’ll be running for will include Columbia County.
“To be honest with you, (the lines) are nothing more than a negotiating tool at best,” said Gipson. “I’m convinced at the end of the day I will have Columbia County as a part of my district.”
He said if he does win the election and new lines are drawn he would still fight for the issues important to Columbia County.
“The worst case scenario would be I made an enormous amount of friends in Columbia County and will have gotten to know what the issues are in a county that would border my district,” said Gipson. “I intend to represent the people of Columbia County throughout my time in the Senate, whether they are in or out of my district.”