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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Still Time To Make Things Right

There is still time to do this better. The Nassau County legislature has a statutory March 5 deadline to adopt a districting plan that doesn’t inject more poison into a system that is already dripping with hostile gamesmanship.

Nassau County is still on one knee from a natural catastrophe. Can’t we agree to skip another political catastrophe right now?

How legislative districts are drawn can matter. The situation in Washington is a direct consequence of heavy gerrymandering of districts, encouraging irresponsible behavior by November-proof Representatives who only fear party primary elections. Over the next few months, it may put our national government back on the brink. The continual gear-grinding in our county government is directly traceable to deals regarding a court-ordered restructuring of the legislature cut by some members of the old Board of Supervisors in 1993. We’re stuck with a system that was designed to maintain a status quo that’s no longer valid.

Let’s acknowledge the late May Newburger of North Hempstead, who as a member of the Board of Supervisors in 1994 tried to undue some of the damage and proposed superior alternatives that couldn’t even get seconded. She was publicly booed, literally, by well-meaning people who were misled into supporting arrangements that benefited only a few. We ended up with exactly the kind of legislature, dominated by partisanship and careerism, that residents testified they didn’t want when this was set up.

Just as it happened a decade ago, the appointed redistricting commission failed to recommend a plan to the county legislature. This “temporary advisory commission” was designed to fail in the county charter. It was always intended that most legislators would pick their constituents. The 1994 charter amendments were based on an assumption that it would always be Republicans making those picks. What is playing out now is delusional thinking on the part of some that with a little help, the natural order of things will soon be restored.

Well, nuts to that. Some of the population shifts between the 19 districts have been fairly extreme, ranging from a gain of just over 12 percent to a loss of just over 8 percent. There’s some heavy population turnover and churn occurring in some neighborhoods, which is being reflected in changing vote patterns. The political parties, now essentially devoid of their old field structures and lacking meaningful intelligence, are largely clueless as to what is really happening out there or what it all means. They’re mostly guessing, and they might as well roll the dice on something that allows citizens to not feel mugged.

Although Republicans may get to mess around with the political fortunes of some Democratic legislators, the districts they’ve proposed aren’t, in the long run, much of an improvement for them and they will not be able to hold even the illusion of “control” for anything like the next ten years. Of course, some of this depends on Democrats.

It is unfortunate that some observers have hooked onto this idea that as few residents as possible should be moved into another district. This reinforces this misconception that these districts belong to the individual legislators. It isn’t “his” district or “her” district. They are our districts.

We could have fair districting right now. All the parties have to do is agree to do it. Insiders no longer have semi-exclusive access to detailed population data (see the Nassau County United Redistricting Coalition web site for one example). Motivated civilians with knowledge of the county can draw a reasonably good map that meets legal requirements in a day or two.

County Executive Mangano can step up. He can appoint such a group and ask the legislature to approve that plan by March 5.

 

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net