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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Reform and the GOP

Beyond their passion for Democrats, most New York editorial boards and good government groups also share a belief in the magical municipal powers of taxpayer-funded campaigns and non-partisan redistricting.

Both bad ideas are circulating in Albany. Yet the Republicans can win the public debate on these issues, even as The New York Times’ editorial page, Citizens Union and former New York City Ed Koch label GOP state lawmakers as the enemies of reform. Far from it, the Republicans should say. Their 32-30 majority in the state Senate, populated with legislators from New York’s suburban and upstate districts, is the only thing standing in the way of a state government that is controlled completely by Democrats from New York City, as was the case in 2009 and 2010. The current fundraising and redistricting processes put the Republicans in the position they enjoy in Albany today. Moreover, the best way for the GOP to lose their majority in the state Legislature’s upper chamber between 2012 and 2020 is to surrender unilaterally the inherent fundraising advantages which come from being an incumbent state Senator, and to limit the influence they’ll have over the process this year of redrawing the state’s Congressional and state legislative district lines.

For starters, the public can already finance political campaigns without having taxpayer monies set aside for this purpose. New Yorkers can write a personal check and support a person who’s running for a state elective office. And I understand the allure of publicly-financed campaigns. The idea that the taxpayer can ‘level the playing field’ between a great candidate with limited financial resources, and a bad one supported by the so-called special interest groups, is hard to resist.

New York City’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB) is often cited as a reform worth emulating at the state level because the CFB provides generous taxpayer contributions to the campaign coffers of city political candidates, based on the amount of money they’ve raised in the private-sector. To my amazement, New York City’s CFB continues to be cited as a grand accomplishment even after a billionaire self-financed three straight winning mayoral campaigns.

Let’s turn to redistricting, a below-the-radar process that has outsized influence over the make-up of the state’s Congressional and state Legislative delegations. The state Legislature, with its Democrat-controlled Assembly and GOP-majority Senate, has traditionally sat down the year after the U.S. Census Bureau’s once-a-decade canvass of the population and decided jointly which communities are going to be incorporated into New York’s Congressional and state Legislative districts.

“Last year, [state Senator Dean] Skelos signed my organization’s pledge, promising to be part of the effort to redraw district lines in a fair and rational way—to once and for all end the pernicious partisan gerrymandering that reinforces all of Albany’s worst habits,” wrote former Mayor Koch, founder of a group called New York Uprising, in a Daily News op-ed on March 3. Senator Skelos should admit signing the pledge was a mistake, done in a weak moment before New York’s voters rose up to restore the GOP’s majority in the state Senate.

 

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net