One senator per county makes sense but isn’t likely

Even though it’s unlikely to go anywhere, legislation proposed by state Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, to change the way Senate districts are apportioned makes a lot of sense.

Griffo wants to reduce the number of Senate districts from 63 to 62 and then give each of New York’s 62 counties one senator. The only way to do so is to amend the state Constitution, which makes ever seeing Griffo’s proposal become reality a shaky proposition.

Many will say Griffo’s legislation is just a sour-grapes reaction from a political party that lost control of the state Senate in the November election. Frankly, Griffo’s proposal makes a lot of sense when politics are removed from the equation. The recurring proposals to split New York into two states is indicative of the way many upstate New Yorkers feel their interests are drowned out by the disproportionate number of representatives New York City receives in both the Assembly and Senate. Even when the Republicans controlled the state Senate, it didn’t mean there wasn’t a schism in policy that often skewed in favor of the eastern portion of the state.

Giving each county one voice in the state Senate mirrors the U.S. Senate, where each state has two senators regardless of its population. As every social studies student knows, the two chambers of U.S. Congress were designed to represent the American public in different ways — the “Great Compromise” or “Connecticut Compromise” proposed by that state’s Roger Sherman. This was the only way delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 could come up with to reconcile the otherwise everlasting fighting between big-population and small-population states.

New York also has a bicameral (two-house) legislature, but because our houses are both population-based, our system does not reconcile our everlasting struggle, between the big-population New York City area and small-population upstate.

Unlike Congress, New York’s Assembly and Senate are basically the same, except that the Assembly has more members with smaller districts. Also, Assembly members and senators are each elected every two years, unlike in Congress where senators serve six-year terms.

Then there’s gerrymandering. Federally, the partisan drawing of legislative districts is only an issue in the House of Representatives — the Senate has preset state boundaries — but it’s a problem in both chambers of New York’s Legislature. Getting around these sprawling, odd-shaped districts is a chore. Griffo knows something about this: The population hub of his 47th Senate District is the Utica-Rome area, in the Mohawk Valley at the district’s south end, but it snakes north all the way to Massena on the St. Lawrence River — a three hour and 15 minute drive from Utica.

For most New Yorkers — citizens, voters and taxpayers — it’s hard to see why our state legislature has two houses.

Yet the process to amend the state Constitution is tortuous, so we don’t think Griffo’s proposal stands much chance regardless of when it was proposed or which party proposed it. The fact that a member of the Republican minority is proposing such a drastic change is just a second kiss of death. That’s unfortunate, because hundreds of thousands of state residents could benefit from the one-county, one-senator legislation.

COMMENTS