The Game is Rigged
by TERRY GIPSON
Recently I testified at a hearing of The New York Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, also known as LATFOR. This task force is supposed to produce new district maps for all U.S. Congressional, NYS Senate and NYS Assembly Districts in New York. Our United States Constitution requires that all states do this every ten years in conjunction with new U.S. Census results.
LATFOR is composed of State Senators and Assembly Members, which is the equivalent of putting the wolf in charge of the hen house. The very idea that elected officials should have the opportunity to draw their own district lines works against the democratic principles that they are elected to uphold.
LATFOR is one of the most effective incumbent protection programs in this country. It has been around since the 70’s and I would encourage everyone to visit the Senate and Assembly websites to see how many officials have been in Albany since the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. I know we like to think that this is a result of their hard work and diligence. The truth, however, is that this occurs more often than not because districts are drawn to favor incumbents, special interests, and the reigning majority in both houses. This will not change until we remove politics from the process — and LATFOR is politics at its most political.
We need redistricting that is fair, transparent, and independent. During the last election cycle, it looked like we might be headed in that direction when many Legislative members signed the New York Uprising Pledge. This pledge promised support for the creation of an independent, non-partisan Redistricting Commission and the entire Republican Senate block, signed it. But that was as far as they were willing to go.
In a cynical move last session, the Republican Senate majority turned their backs on the pledge and broke their promise. This includes Mid-Hudson region Senators Saland, Larkin, Seward and Ball. As a “cover”, they created the concept that fair redistricting requires a constitutional amendment. They proposed a constitutional amendment “redistricting bill”, knowing full well that amendments require action by two successive legislatures and a public referendum. They did this knowing that it would delay any redistricting until at least 2022, and there would be no guarantee that those future legislative bodies would even take the necessary action to approve the amendment and set a public referendum.
In other words, the reigning Senate majority came up with an idea that would make fair redistricting impossible. They quickly put that idea into a bill and passed it. In doing so, they blew a historic opportunity to show America that New York is above all the partisanship that has paralyzed this country, and LATFOR is now in the process of doing their partisan business as usual. It is completely unfair to every voter in this state.
I, for one, refuse to stand by for another minute and let our democracy be held in jeopardy by a process that routinely allows our State Legislators to select their voters instead of the voters selecting them. It is exactly this type of self-serving behavior that has inspired me to take on the enormous challenge of running for the State Senate myself. My goal is to help finally end this type of political gamesmanship.
Hopefully my actions will influence others across the state to not wait another minute to campaign for office against entrenched career politicians at both the state and federal level. “Waiting” is exactly what they hope we will do, and this partisan redistricting process is just another wall incumbents have created to protect themselves.
There is an important state and federal election just 13 months ahead. Every day that goes by without new and fairly drawn district maps increases the weighted chance of an incumbent’s re-election. Just imagine how difficult it is to get to know one’s constituents and raise the necessary funds without knowing where the district lines are or when the primary will take place.
LATFOR is not only engaging in partisan gerrymandering, they are also discouraging many highly qualified candidates from running for office — for both parties. New York deserves to be represented by the best and brightest among us. We deserve a non-partisan process that encourages all citizens to come out and take part in their government. If LATFOR represents the best we have to offer, then it is a sad day indeed for all New Yorkers.
During my testimony, I asked that they halt the LATFOR proceedings immediately and go back to Albany to pass the independent redistricting legislation that was promised to the people of New York last year. “Stand up for democracy”, I said. “Tell your respective leaders what all New Yorkers already know: This game is rigged! Tell them you refuse to take part in this embarrassing process any longer. Wouldn’t you rather be remembered as those who took part in a historic movement to make New York a shining example of democracy?”
I know that I would, and for the sake of our great state, I hope that LATFOR will return our state government to its rightful owners, the people of New York.
Terry Gipson lives in Rhinebeck NY where he was elected to, and presently serves on, the Rhinebeck Village Board of Trustees. Terry and his wife, Michelle, are active in community organizations including the local Historical Society, Farmers Market, Chamber of Commerce and Morton Memorial Library. Terry has over 20 years of hands-on management experience in the private sector, and has built a career finding creative solutions to complex problems. Terry is the owner of Gipson Design Group Inc., a firm specializing in set and exhibit design, which is located in Rhinebeck Village. Terry Gipson is a Democratic candidate for the New York State Senate from the 41st district, which presently includes most of Dutchess and all of Columbia Counties.
Web Site: http://www.TerryGipsonNY.com