At its January 24th meeting of the Dutchess County Legislature, the Republican majority once more confirmed its commitment to the dubious practice of gerrymandering the boundary lines of the legislative districts in which they will make their own bids for re-election.

Earlier in January, County Executive Steinhaus had vetoed the Legislature’s December vote to eliminate an Independent Commission that would have drawn the district lines. Among other things, Steinhaus’s veto message recognized the “cynicism and distrust held by some citizens who view the reapportionment process” and said,”Too frequently, it just isn’t pretty, and it does not endear positive public reaction.” He advocated amending the anti-gerrymandering law rather than throwing it out as the Republican majority has done.

The plan to end gerrymandering used to be a bi-partisan effort, with 3 Republicans joining all Democrats and the 1 Conservative to vote for an Independent Commission. The Legislature’s Republican caucus needed 17 votes to override the veto on the floor of the Legislature, and they found those 17 votes by persuading Legislature Chairman Rolison (City and Town of Poughkeepsie) and Legislator Flesland (Town of Poughkeepsie) to switch from their previous support for an Independent Commission. Legislator Horton from East Fishkill was the only Republican to remain true to the principle of stopping gerrymandering as she joined Democrats Goldberg, Kuffner, Jeter-Jackson, MacAvery, Tyner, and White, as well as Conservative Doxsey, to bring this clean government reform to Dutchess County.

Even if the current leadership of the Legislature’s Republican majority names some advisory panel or holds public forums, their elimination of an Independent Commission to draw district lines returns the power of gerrymandering to the majority legislators themselves, to a process that “just isn’t pretty.” Let’s see if the current Republican majority does or does not cut a college campus in half, divide the Village of Wappingers Falls into 2 separate districts, or create odd-duck shaped districts where minority Democrats or independent-minded Republicans happen to live – as happened in 1993 and 2003. And even if everything turns out “pretty” or even fair, the power of gerrymandering remains institutionalized in the law of Dutchess County, at least until some future group of county legislators can sincerely recognize the need of the people for a fairer, more transparent government electoral process.

The Democratic caucus of the Dutchess County Legislature has consistently opposed the self-serving practice of legislators drawing the borders of their own districts, thus choosing their own voters and attempting to maximize a politician’s political power. No matter where or how gerrymandering is practiced, it is wrong and should be eliminated. Efforts to reform State government’s use of gerrymandering have stalled in Albany despite the determined efforts of prominent retired office-holders. During the last election cycle almost all incumbent state-wide office holders and State Assemblymen and Senators signed a commitment to end gerrymandering, but that seems now to have been more campaign rhetoric than conscientious substance.

Almost everyone recognizes the need for political reform in New York State, but so very little progress is made. The time for talking about reform is long past; now is the time for action, and all public officials – local and state – should be reminded of the urgent need for reform of our government. Help make
that start by calling your legislator and demanding an end to gerrymandering here in Dutchess County, and in New York State.