Griffo renews his push for one senator per New York county
Amid calls from area lawmakers to reshape New York into three regions under one governor, another one of Oneida County’s state representatives is pushing his own proposal to realign state government.
State Sen. Joseph Griffo is renewing a proposal to reallocate representation in the state Senate by assigning one senator for each New York county.
Griffo, R-Rome, is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill, with Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, R-Watertown, fronting the Assembly version. The legislation would keep the Assembly’s representation apportioned based on population.
“People are rightfully frustrated with the authoritarian approach demonstrated by the governor and a lack of checks and balances, particularly during this recent public health crisis,” Griffo said in a statement. “Many, especially in upstate, are discouraged by the unwillingness shown by the downstate-dominated legislative majorities to counteract and confront the actions of the administration.”
Griffo and Walczyk similarly teamed up to push the legislation last year, modeling the system after the federal government. The House of Representatives is determined by population, while each state is assigned two federal senators.
“The goal of a two-house legislature is to make sure every person in every area is represented,” Walczyk said in a statement. “Because New York City and its immediate surroundings contain such a disproportionate amount of our state’s population, the unintended consequence has been to effectively disempower virtually any state resident outside of the immediate vicinity of New York City.”
Under the state legislation, there would be 62 senators, down from the current 63.
Roughly half of the Senate’s current members represent districts out of New York City and Long Island. In Upstate New York, meanwhile, various Senate districts cover parts of multiple counties. State Sen. James Seward’s, for example, includes parts of nine counties.
Griffo said it is high time for all counties to have resident representatives — particularly in Upstate New York.
“While I recognize that there are a number of significant legal and other obstacles in the way, I believe that our bill is what is needed to ensure that all voices are being heard and that all regions get the attention they deserve,” Griffo said.
Griffo’s proposal comes as a contingent of state lawmakers, including Republicans Seward and Assemblyman John Salka, advocates a proposal to split the state into three autonomous regions. Under this proposal, each region would have a regional Senate and regional Assembly, whose members also would serve in the state Legislature.
Griffo said he wasn’t sure that model would work long-term.
“I think our bill that we proposed is feasible and realistic,” he said. “The essence of this is that it follows a proven model, and that is the U.S. government.”
As it stands, changing the state Senate districts under the legislation would violate a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 1964.
The bill would require the state to challenge that ruling, which says that every legislative body across the country (with the exception of the U.S. Senate) must be apportioned by total population under the “one person, one vote” rule.
In addition, lawmakers only can amend the state constitution by passing the bill twice in both houses of the state Legislature over two separate terms. The legislation would then go to the public for a referendum.
Anticipating skepticism that the bill could have political motivations to give Republicans more power in what is now a Democratic majority, Griffo said the motivation is “geopolitical balance” regardless of party affiliation.
“Regardless of whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat … you will have a unique perspective,” he said. “You can then advocate for the unique interests and the needs in the Upstate area compared to downstate New York.”