4:00 pm Mar. 7, 20121
Should the governor be willing to sign some version of the legislature's gerrymandered district lines into law in exchange for a commitment from the legislature to take itself out of the line-drawing business forever after?
For declared proponents of redistricting reform, that's the only practical question left at this point. And it has turned out to be a divisive one.
On the Absolutely Not side are, among others, the New York Times editorial board, former mayor Ed Koch, Common Cause New York, Democrats in the State Senate, and a few reform-minded Assembly Democrats like Micah Kellner. They want Cuomo to stick to his promise to veto whatever lines the legislature produces, effectively putting the matter of determining the lines that will be in place for the next decade in the hands of the courts. Their reasoning is simply that a veto would yield independently drawn lines and also set in place a precedent that could be used later to compel the legislature to accede to reform, at risk of a repeat episode.
On the Sadly Yes side are Citizens Union executive director Dick Dadey, former state attorney general Robert Abrams and Governor Andrew Cuomo. Their logic is slightly harder to explain, but what it boils down to is that they don't believe it's possible to get lasting reform without the cooperation of the legislature, and therefore a trade-off will yield the best outcome. Undergirding their arguments are concerns that the courts can't be trusted to handle the complicated mess in time, and would probably just rely on what the legislature has already done anyway.
Citizens Union tried to articulate the rationale explicitly in a Feb. 28 press release, when they said, "oftentimes a court will rely upon previously expressed political support" as "a basis" for new lines.
"With limited time remaining, the court may simply do what is most expedient," the statement said.
Without speaking to motivation—which, who knows—it's fair to say that Citizens Union's position has the practical political effect of offering the governor cover if he ends up retreating from his veto pledge and tries to present a compromise as a victory.
When Governor Cuomo's father was faced with a gerrymandered redistricting map, he argued the opposite—that courts were independent—and therefore unaccountable. The effect, Mario Cuomo argued, was that a court-driven solution would actually shield politicians from voters who might want to express displeasure with the redistricting process by voting against them.
UPDATE: Dadey called to elaborate on his strategy, which focuses on permanent changes. "We can be annoyed at the failure to get reform for 2012 and simply seek revenge through the governor's veto. It'll taste sweet until we wake up and realize we didn't change the process" and that we'll "back here in 10 years watching the same Groundhog Day's movie."