Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Silencing Constituencies . . .

Recently, the proposed redistricting of the State Assembly practically wrote Assembly Member Tenney out of her district by attaching New Hartford to a district sprawling to the east to the Hudson River.  Fortunately the governor plans to veto this map, but why was it drawn this way? In a similar fashion Congressman Allen West is being written out of his district in Florida.  Since Florida is a growing state, why should anyone lose their district? While "politics"  is always the ready answer -- the Republicans and Democrats always seem to be trying to best each other when lines are redrawn -- there is more at stake than just numbers of Rs and Ds.

Constituencies are being silenced.

In Ms. Tenny's case, both she and her predecessor, while both Rs, have not always followed the "party line," much to the consternation of the always downstate-dominated party elite.  Similarly, Florida's Mr. West has taken a "Tea Party" stance on many issues, again to the chagrin of party elites. Are these attempts to silence the conservative preferences of the voters in these districts?

What about the County Legislature?

The OD has just run another edictorial -- the latest of a series that runs back several years -- calling for the Oneida County Legislature to cut its number by 10. Anything less is deemed unacceptable by the editorial board. The OD compares Oneida to "larger" or similarly-sized counties such as Onondaga and Broome which have fewer legislators, essentially arguing that if these counties can do with fewer legislators, so can Oneida. This, however, is misleading.

Oneida County, geographically, is several times the size of Onondaga County, and is considerably more diverse: 3 cities, numerous far-flung villages, and numerous towns some of which are distinctly rural while others are heavily developed and suburban. Onondaga County is primarily 1 city and its surrounding suburban towns and villages. Broome, while having several cities, is still geographically smaller than Oneida.

Many, including the OD, seem to be fixed on the "one-man-one-vote" pure democracy form of government, assuming that all important perspectives will be represented. Our "Founding Fathers," whether at the national or NY State level, understood otherwise, however, and tried to formulate governments where certain constituencies would be guaranteed representation regardless of population (i.e., each State has 2 Senators in the US government, and each county formerly had one senator in the State government). The idea was that each state (or county) was considered sufficiently distinct from others to warrant its own constituency. In Oneida County a Board of Supervisors guaranteed a constituency for each Town until the County adopted the legislature as its form of government about 1970. (Saratoga County still has its Board of Supervisors.)

Now the OD wants to cut the number of legislators down to 10. In terms of cost saving, this will be minimal when compared to the County Budget. Will it be more "efficient?" Yes, if the intent is to reduce the diversity of voices that will be heard in formulating government policy. And therein lies the problem, because it would be unjust. Certain constituencies will undoubtedly be silenced or considerably diminished. Combining a Sauquoit with, say, a Paris or Marshall probably would not leave people feeling unrepresented because these Towns are very similar to each other. What benefits one will benefit the others. Combining suburban and rural towns, or suburban towns with portions of cities, is problematic because there is a diversity in needs.  Per the OD:
"Democratic Majority Leader Frank Tallarino of Rome doesn’t think any seats should be cut until the new district lines are drawn. But that’s not how it works. It makes more sense to trim the numbers and then carve up the districts to correspond with the number of legislators."
To the contrary, OD, Mr. Tallarino is right on the mark. Reducing the county legislature isn't just about reducing a number ... its about doing so without silencing constituencies. The only way the latter can be done is to draw the lines first.


Feb. 8, 2010 Update . . .

Oneida County Board of Legislators OK's reducing its size . . .
The Oneida County Board of Legislators Wednesday approved a measure that would reduce its size by six members, from 29 to 23.
If the public approves the measure in a referendum this November, the change would go into effect in the next term, which starts in 2014, and save the county $50,208.

Let's hope that the lines of the new 23 districts are drawn BEFORE the public referendum, so the public knows exactly which constituencies are going to be silenced.


Anonymous said...

Very good points. Draw the maps first.

I would like to see this taken a step further and return the county to a Board of Supervisors (and mayors) like they have in Saratoga County. Eliminate a whole layer of county government and the associated waste and duplication.

Then you will see true voter representation.

By the way, what does the county legislature do anyhow? Most issues are handled locally. Why even bother with all of these politicians?

Anonymous said...

Reducing the number of legislators is not an important issue. As pointed out, it invoves pennies out of a $360+ million budget. And, the reduction of size may infact lower deomcratic standards which is the last thing this county needs. A much more significant step that should be taken is to demand term limits for both the legislature and county executive. That could truly lead to encouraging the fresh, dynamic leadership we need.

Dave said...

Thank you, Strikeslip. Finally, someone who gets it (along with the other two commenters.) Reduction of the number of legislators is usually a political move and not an efficiency move. Happened that way in my county and my town basically lost its representation to the town next door, whose culture and values were totally different.

Anonymous said...


Substitute Oneida for Franklin County and you have the answer to our problem. Eliminate the County Legislature.

It is not about money, it is about representation and responsibility.

Anonymous said...

A reduction of numbers will assure the continuation of one party rule therefore further restricting a true democratic process. When on looks at the lanscape of the county, the cities and the new effort to redistrict out an independent voice like Assemblywoman Tenny, one does sadly conclude that political reform and excellence may never be reached here. The only thought that may help is an effort to impose term limits an all local elected offices, starting with the county. I wonder if the county charter allows for referendums? Does anyone know or where a copy of the charter may be obtained? It is not on line.