The Supreme Court will hear argument today in Gill v. Whitford, the partisan gerrymandering case. The issue, whether Wisconsin Republican legislators who get a minority of votes can continue to draw district lines that guarantee them a large majority of seats? This practice employed by both, and all parties when in power dates back to the earliest days of the republic. A SCOTUS ruling that the practice is unconstitutional would rank among a score or so of the most important in over two centuries. But even if the Court so rules and levels the political playing field in a manner and magnitude not seen since Reynolds v. Sims in 1964, that won’t help Democratic voters in New York State, not as long as the Empire State has a governor with surname Cuomo.
When Mario Cuomo was first elected governor in 1982 the Democratic to Republican voter ratio was 53/47. Today it is an overwhelming 68/32. But in 2017 as in 1982, and every year in between, the state senate has been Republican controlled, because the Cuomos have wanted it that way. They have actively conspired with Republicans to maintain that control.
In 1986 Mario promised not to use his enormous popularity to campaign against incumbent senate Republicans in return for them not funding the campaign of gubernatorial sacrificial lamb candidate Andrew O’Rourke. Under that deal Mario won a then record 65-35 victory designed to advance his expected 1988 presidential bid. Maintenance of Republican control of the senate also allowed Mario to claim his glorious plans for New York were constantly frustrated by an obstructionist upper house. Cuomo’s plans were never specified nor realized, just lots of speeches about New York as a “family.”
In 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo continued his family’s tradition by helping to create a new 63rd state senate district west and south of Albany. The extra seat was gerrymandered to assure election of a Republican and maintain their tenuous control. When even that was not enough Cuomo acquiesced in a group of breakaway Democrats organizing the Senate with Republicans to continue minority party control.
Yes, there have been two other governors elected during the Cuomo era. Three-term Republican George Pataki was grateful that Mario, who he defeated, handed him a Republican controlled senate elected with a minority of votes. Governor Eliot Spitzer, who H.L. served as Senior Advisor, was poised to finally end Republican control. He strove relentlessly and obsessively to do that during his short tenure, which ended in the conflagration of a scandal involving highly remunerated sex workers.
For Democrats in Wisconsin, Republicans in Maryland and voters deprived of meaningful voting power throughout the country by partisan gerrymandering, help from SCOTUS may be on the way. But there is no relief imminent for New York’s Democratic voters, not while a Cuomo governs the state. Food for the thoughts of Democratic commuters as they traverse the Tappan Zee on a new bridge that the Republican-controlled senate agreed to name after their protector of blessed memory.