GHENT–The New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Redistricting (LATFOR) released its tentative maps for new Assembly and state Senate districts last Thursday, January 26. The proposed new districts would carve up Columbia County in some very different ways, and at least one local office seeker has joined the chorus of good government groups condemning the new district lines.
Under the plan all of the county would be shifted into the 43rd District of the state Senate. That district is currently represented by Roy McDonald (R) and the county would be the southern end of the district, which would also cover most of Rensselaer County and much of Saratoga County.
The 41st Senate District, now represented by state Senator Steve Saland, would no longer include any part of Columbia County.
That has outraged Democrat Terry Gipson, a Rhinebeck Town Board member who has been campaigning for his party’s nomination to run in the 41st District against Senator Saland. Mr. Gipson testified before the committee drawing the lines last summer, and now says the committee members did not include any of the suggestions he and others made for what he sees as a fairer, more transparent process for reapportioning legislative districts. “They are discouraging good candidates,” he said.
He plans to continue campaigning in Columbia County until the state adopts the final lines.
Mr. Saland said this week that he was “deeply pained” by the possibility of no longer representing Columbia County. He said this was the fourth reapportionment he has been through in his political career.
On the Assembly side, the county would still be divided among three different districts. The towns of Kinderhook, Chatham, New Lebanon, Austerlitz, Canaan and Hillsdale would become part of the 107th District, which would include towns now represented by Steve McLaughlin (R-108th) of Rensselaer County, where most of the 107th is located.
Germantown and Clermont at the county’s southwest corner would become part of what could loosely be described as an “X”-shaped district that winds through the Catskills and south to Orange County in a manner that would appear to define the term gerrymandered.
The LATFOR website, www.latfor.state.ny.us says this new 101st Assembly District has no incumbent. Peter Lopez (R), who represents the two towns now as part of the 127th District, is listed as the incumbent in a new 102nd District that would no longer extend across the Hudson River into Columbia County.
The remainder of the towns in Columbia County (Stuyvesant, Stockport, Ghent, Greenport, Livingston, Claverack, Taghkanic, Gallatin, Copake and Ancram) and the City of Hudson would all become part of the 106th Assembly District, currently represented by Joel Miller (R) of Dutchess County.
Mr. Miller announced last week that he was not seeking reelection this year, which leaves the district without an incumbent. But many of the towns in Columbia County that would be included in the redrawn 106th District are already without a member of the Assembly.
With the exception of Gallatin, Stuyvesant and Taghkanic, the towns that would become part of the 106th District are now part of the 103rd District, which is holding a special election in March to pick someone to fill the vacancy created when the incumbent, Marc Molinaro, was elected Dutchess County executive. The winner of that race will serve the remaining few months of Mr. Molinaro’s term and would have to run again in November. But Democrat Didi Barrett and Republican Rich Wager, the two candidates seeking the seat, both live in Millbrook, which would not be part of the 106th District as LATFOR plan would redraw it.
So it’s likely that by this time next year Columbia County residents in communities like the City of Hudson and the Town of Ancram will find they have been represented in the Assembly by three different people in a little over a year’s time.
Redistricting for the legislature is required by law after each census, and LATFOR has had the first crack at the job. LATFOR members are appointed by legislative leaders, and in effect the leaders of each house–Democrats in the Assembly and Republicans in the Senate–control the process and the outcome.
But in the days since the LATFOR proposal emerged, Governor Cuomo has affirmed that he plans to veto the plan. That would leave it to the courts to decide how to redraw at least some if not all of the district lines.
There also can, and likely will, be legal challenges to redistricting, and the federal Department of Justice can require changes if districts appear to violate voting rights statutes.
All seats in the state legislature are up for election this November.
The task force has not yet released maps for redrawn congressional districts. New York will lose two seats in the House of Representatives based on the census.
Mr. Gipson and some other observers see the new state legislative district lines and the new hearings that LATFOR will hold before the plan goes to the legislature for approval as delaying tactics that benefit incumbents. He says that delaying final district lines decisions makes it more difficult for challengers like him to know where they must campaign and who their opponents will be. “They’ve managed to drag this thing out to their advantage,” he said.
The LATFOR maps are available online at the taskforce website, www.latfor.state.ny.us ; click on “Maps” on the left side of the screen.