Queens Democratic Senator Mike Gianaris appeared on the Fred Dicker’s radio this morning and was just getting into his pitch against the GOP’s partisan redistricting plan–”They have reminded us once again why Albany has been known as the most dysfunctional capital in the nation. We have been working very hard with Gov. Cuomo to get the reputation of the state government on the right track and it’s things like this, in one fell swoop that bring us right back to the worst of the worst”–when the host interrupted.
Why, Mr. Dicker wanted to know, if the Democrats are so taken by the issue of nonpartisan redistricting, did they not make it the law when they were in the majority in 2009-2010. Don’t deny it, the longtime Post columnist said: if you were in charge, you would be drawing them out of existence too.
“I can only speak for myself Fred and I certainly would deny it in terms of what I would advocate. I was in the Assembly in the majority for many years and when I introduced the first iteration of an independent commission bill, I made my speaker and my colleagues very unhappy with my advocacy on that for many years. So I would certainly have been pushing very hard for a fair process.”
At which point Mr. Dicker interrupted again to ask if Mr. Gianaris thought his fellow Democrats would have joined him.
“I think many of them would,” he said. “And I think I would have been able to impose upon them to move forward as a conference.”
Mr. Gianaris is many ways free of blame on this point–he sponsored the independent redistricting bill when he was in the Assembly, and he only came to the Senate after Democrats were in the minority. But as the head of the Democrats’ efforts to retake the chamber, he is in an awkward spot, since he must explain to Democratic partisans, good government groups and Republican antagonists the question that Mr. Dicker and others have asked over and over again: If non-partisan redistricting is so great, how come you didn’t make it the law when you were in the majority?
“I wasn’t a member of the Senate [then] so I don’t know what motivated them,” Mr. Gianaris said. “But obviously I think they should have done it. We are where we are now.
There are two answers to this question. On the one hand, Democrats thought they would hold on to the chamber in 2010 election and would, in Malcolm Smith’s phrase, redistrict the GOP into oblivion. In another, more charitable view, Democrats only had the chamber for a few short years, had a long agenda item, dealt with the chaos of a Senate coup and the David Paterson-era, and simply didn’t get around to nonpartisan redistricting.
And neither of these, Mr. Gianaris said, should be used by Republicans to now not follow through on their reform pledges.
“It’s no excuse for the Republicans to say, ‘We would have been just as bad as they were, hypothetically speaking.”
But Mr. Gianaris and his Senate colleagues have a further awkwardness–they aren’t backed by the Assembly Democrats, who retain a huge majority they would like to keep. Will the Assembly Democrats fight for their colleagues in the upper chamber, Mr. Dicker wanted to know.
“Fred you know how things have always worked up there and continue to work as regards to reapportionment. The majorities in either house essentially defer to each other on their own lines,” Mr. Gianaris said.
Asked if this makes Speaker Sheldon Silver in cahoots with Dean Skelos and the GOP Senate, Mr. Gianaris said, well, yea, kinda.
“I believe Speaker Silver and the Assembly Democrats took responsibility for the Assembly lines and the Senate Republicans took responsibility for the Senate lines,” he said. “And they agreed to pass each others plans.”