Andrew Cuomo’s Redistricting Bind: Reform Now or Reform Later

The very first question Andrew Cuomo was asked at his Cabinet meeting this afternoon was in reference to an interview he gave with the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in which he sounded like he was backing down from his threat to veto any lines drawn by lawmakers in the once-a-decade redistricting process.

“My position has been clear I think from day one,” the governor said, his ash from Ash Wednesday smeared across his forehead. “If they send me these lines I am going to veto these lines. I want a better product and I want a better process. I want an independent process, I want fairer lines. I want this to stop so that this is the last time this happens.”

Mr. Cuomo however is stuck between those two polarities: process, and product.

The product is the “hyper-partisan,” in his words, lines which LATFOR, the state’s legislative redistricting arm, came out with, that gerrymander the districts in such a way as to preserve the Republican majority in the Senate and the Democratic majority in the Assembly.

This part of the bind is easily dealt with. Mr. Cuomo could simply veto the lines, and they would be drawn by a court–something which seems about to be happening anyway. This would result in a map that good government groups feel is likely to be far, far better than anything the legislature is capable of producing.

But if he were to do that, the process of lawmakers drawing their own lines would remain in place for the next round of redistricting in 2020.

“I am old enough to have seen this movie before,” Mr. Cuomo added. “This movie will be rerun in ten years. It will be the same thing. My father went through this, Governor Pataki went through this. ”

But if  Mr. Cuomo wants to solve the problem for the future–to stop the movie mid-reel, as it were, he may have to accept the lines as they are now in order for there to be future reform. And on this, he may have to deal with the legislature, especially the Senate Republicans.

They have indicated that they are willing to give Mr. Cuomo half of what he wants–ending the LATFOR process by changing the law. But only if they are able to let the lines they drew earlier this year–or something approximating them–stand.

This is why when asked why he doesn’t just promise to veto these lines, Mr. Cuomo said, “What you don’t achieve with that option is you don’t achieve any real reform. The real problem–which is the law and the Constitution–stays in place, and then ten years from now the legislature draws the lines once again.”

The real problem here however is that Senate Democrats and good government groups don’t really believe that if Mr. Cuomo were to sacrifice the present for the future, as it were, real reform would be achieved. Laws can be changed. If the Republicans were to push the end of gerrymandering into 2020, what is to stop them from pushing it further in 2019?

Andrew Cuomo’s Redistricting Bind: Reform Now or Reform Later