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Stefanik wrong about Cuomo being part of constitutional amendment on redistricting rules

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, speaks prior to introducing Vice President Michael Pence at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield at Fort Drum on Jan. 17. (Provided photo — Sydney Schaefer, Watertown Daily Times)

North Country U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik issued a statement Thursday blasting state Democrats for passing a constitutional amendment, which if approved by voters, would change redistricting rules. She focused most of her ire at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but the governor has nothing to with state constitutional amendments.

Her statement contained political concern over a constitutional amendment New Yorkers will vote on in November, but it was was misleading in its allegation toward Cuomo.

“The Worst Governor in America and Albany Democrats continue to crush and ignore the will of the people of New York,” she wrote in a press release.

The allegation that Cuomo is involved in this constitutional amendment process is untrue. A constitutional amendment in New York is passed by the Legislature and the voters without any decision-making by the governor.

According to Article 19 of the state Constitution, the only people involved are members of the Senate and Assembly, who propose and vote on whether the amendment will continue; the state attorney general, who renders an opinion on the amendment; and New York voters, who have the final say on whether the amendment is put into the constitution. The constitution does not allow the governor to even veto the Legislature’s votes, as he can with laws.

Multiple members of Stefanik’s communications team did not return an email requesting comment and an explanation of her statement.

Cuomo supported the current rules this constitutional amendment would reverse. When the rules were approved via another constitutional amendment in 2014, Cuomo urged voters to support the measure. He had said he negotiated the proposal with legislative leaders.

At the time, Rob Astorino, who was running against Cuomo for governor on the Republican line, opposed the proposal. He did not believe it would make the process independent enough.

Cuomo has not issued an opinion on the current proposal. Asked about it by Politico reporter Bill Mahoney last week, Cuomo said, “I have not looked at anything, and when I do, I’ll have an opinion.”

Attorney General Letitia James has not rendered an opinion on the proposal, but her official opinion is not needed for the amendment to go forward. Since it is already approved to be on the ballot in November, her office may not render one.

Stefanik’s claim that the amendment will “subvert and overrule the will of the people” is also misleading. New Yorkers will have the final say in whether this amendment will be added to the Constitution, and it cannot pass without a majority vote in November.

Cuomo response

Cuomo’s team was unhappy about Stefanik’s allegation.

“Can someone in the LCA (Legislative Correspondents Association) explain the process of how the passage of a constitutional amendment works & the role of the legislature to @EliseStefanik?” Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa wrote in a tweet responding to Stefanik’s tweeted statement. “It seems she’s either confused or distorting the truth…again.”

She then posted the text of Article 19 of the state Constitution, which lays out the constitutional amendment process.

“Here you go, @EliseStefanik,” DeRosa wrote. “I’m assuming it’s not on OANN (One America News Network, a right-wing TV news and opinion channel), so you might not see it.”

“The headline ‘a vote to subvert and overrule the will of the people’ is ironic,” Cuomo spokesperson Jack Sterne said, “given her vote two weeks ago in Congress to try to subvert the will of the voters in other states.”

Stefanik on Jan. 6 voted against certifying electoral votes from certain swing states in the presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden.

The rest of Stefanik’s press release stated that New Yorkers “overwhelmingly voted for a Constitutional Amendment setting fair guidelines for the 2022 redistricting process” and criticized “Cuomo and his hacks” for allegedly focusing on “increasing corruption, exerting total political control and ensuring one-party rule in New York State.”

The amendment would give more redistricting power to a party with majorities in both the Senate and Assembly. Democrats currently hold majorities in both chambers.

Redistricting is a controversial topic. Where district lines are drawn on a map can shift state power to one party or another, eliminate a district or make it harder for a political party to win specific districts by cutting or adding areas of the district which lean more toward a certain political party.

Stefanik has a stake in this amendment because redistricting could possibly impact her congressional district — New York’s 21st. If Democrats control the process they could make it harder for her to win reelection by rearranging the district lines.

Jones voted ‘nay’

Stefanik also thanked state Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, for voting against approving the amendment. Jones explained his vote on Thursday night.

“I voted against the measure just for reasons that I think that the way we had it was a bipartisan way to do it,” Jones said. “I just think that the proposal should stand. … I felt the voters had spoken in 2014.

“We had a process in place,” he added later. “People approved it in 2014, and that’s what I believe the process should be.”

Jones also corrected Stefanik and said Cuomo is irrelevant to the discussion over the amendment.

“Cuomo doesn’t even get a decision in this,” he said. “It’s a constitutional amendment.”

Jones also voted against the proposal in the 2020 legislative session.

The proposal has passed both houses both times, on largely political lines. Jones was one of nine Democrats in the Legislature who voted against the amendment last year and was one of seven on Wednesday.

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