BY TODD ALDINGER, ESQ
Despite the historic loss of eight State Senate seats in the 2018 midterm elections, the chamber will likely remain the critical component Republican power in New York State, at least through redistricting in 2021. This is because the State Constitution only requires that Republicans control more than one-third of either chamber to block Democrats from unilaterally controlling redistricting.
However, Republicans only have a two-seat cushion before Democrats cross this threshold. As such, all efforts must be made to prevent any further losses in the State Senate. This requires, first and foremost, that all sitting Senators run for reelection.
In 2014 the New York State Constitution was amended to require that redistricting proposals be proposed by an independent commission, composed equally of representatives nominated by Republican and Democratic legislative leader. Unless this independent commission is able to come to a bi-partisan consensus on redistricting, every redistricting plan with at least one commissioner’s support will be submitted to the legislature for a vote. This will most likely result in a smorgasbord of redistricting plans: from very Republican-favoring plans to very Democratic-favoring plans and plans in between.
Naturally, the Democrat-controlled State Senate and Assembly will want to vote for the most Democrat-favoring of all the plans—cementing Democrat supermajorities in the Assembly and Senate, and wiping out whatever is left of the New York Republican delegation to Congress.
However, tucked away in the Constitutional Amendment on redistricting is a provision that, if,
“the Speaker of the Assembly and the temporary President of the Senate are members of the same political party, approval of legislation submitted by the Independent Redistricting Commission . . . shall require the vote in support of its passage by at least two-thirds of the members elected to each house.”
This means that if the Democrats control both houses of the legislature—as they do now and likely will do so in 2020—then the redistricting plan must receive a two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature.
This effectively gives Republicans the ability to block a one-sided, pro-Democrat redistricting map merely by controlling more than one-third of either the Assembly or the Senate. By blocking a pro-Democrat redistricting map, a neutral bipartisan redistricting plan would have to be passed, or, if that proves impossible, redistricting will be sent to a federal judge, who will almost certainly be friendlier to Republicans than Democrat legislators would be.
Whichever way it happens, a neutral redistricting plan will provide enough competitive seats for Republicans to control 40% or more of both chambers on average, and would provide an opportunity for Republicans to win control of either (or potentially both) chambers of the legislature in a red-wave election cycle.
Having a healthy minority of 40% in both the Senate and Assembly would be of critical importance if Republicans ever win the Governorship. It would allow a Republican governor the ability to line-item veto irresponsible Democratic spending. If, instead, when a Republican governor is elected, the Democrats—through controlling redistricting—hold two-thirds of the seats in both house of the legislature (or are close enough that they can buy off a weak-kneed Republican or two with legislative goodies), then the Democratic legislature would be able to completely rewrite the Governor’s budget. A Republican governor would thus not be so much the chief executive officer of New York as she would be the State’s chief administrator of Democratic policies.
Right now, the Democrats control more two-thirds of the State Assembly; however, even with their historic win of 40 seats of the 63-member Senate, they remain short of holding two-thirds of the seats in the upper chamber. But they are dangerously close.
If Democrats are able to win just two more seats in the State Senate they will be ensconced in power for a generation—regardless of whether a Republican governor is elected. Making this matter even more dangerous for Republicans is the fact that there are about a half-dozen vulnerable senatorial seats from which Democrats could accumulate these two victories. This means that Republicans must adopt an all-out defensive strategy to prevent this nightmare scenario.
The first and foremost order for such an all-out defensive strategy must be to ensure that every sitting state senator is committed to running for reelection in 2020. The incumbency advantage is a powerful phenomenon, and Republicans must use it to their full advantage to protect the State Senate. Efforts must be made to get every state senator to announce their re-election early, and for local Republican machines to start canvassing for these members this year with an eye toward building up their name ID and positive image before challengers even announce.
Sitting state senators must be dissuaded from pursuing other elected positions, such as Congress or County Executive races, as every State Senator who abandons their post to run for such a seat will necessarily cost Republicans their incumbency advantage in the State Senate.
It is not only in the Republican Party’s best interest for Senators to pledge to run for reelection, but it is also in their own long-term interest. Even if a Senator wins a promotion to Congress, this promotion will be short-lived if Democrats control redistricting; the congressional district the former state senator just won will be sliced and diced in just two short years to make room for a Democrat challenger.
Abandoning the Senate to run for County Executive will be similarly unattractive. With Democrat supermajorities in both houses of the legislature, a county executive job will mainly entail raising taxes to pay for the Democratic legislature’s additional unfunded mandates.
If reality and party loyalty isn’t enough to convince Senators to forego their other ambitions and run for reelection, donors and party bosses who do not want to see New York State Republicans redistricted into oblivion must use whatever leverage they have—from refusing to fund exploratory committees to refusing to help with petitions—to make it as uncomfortable and as difficult as possible for any Republican state senator to pursue any office besides reelection. This may be harsh, but reality will be much harsher if Democrats control redistricting.
Maintaining one-third Republican control of the New York State Senate is of paramount importance to preventing generational one-party control by the Democrats in the Empire State. This requires an all-hands-on-deck approach to defending every Republican seat in the State Senate. This must begin by encouraging, prodding, and cajoling every Republican senator to run for reelection in 2020, to announce this reelection early, and to not seek an alternative nomination for Congress or County Executive.