Senate Democrats Walk Out to Protest Stop to Redistricting Debate
Fox 23 was at the capitol for the redistricting vote. The Democratic Conference walked out, refusing to participate in midnight votes resulting from backroom deals, without even the opportunity for review and debate.
Video: Fox 23
While you were sleeping, members of the New York State Assembly and Senate were busy passing bills, and making landmark deals.
In fact, some were still debating at the Capitol at 7:00 a.m.
So far we know that Governor Andrew Cuomo has come to terms with the Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on everything from casino gambling, to a new teacher evaluation system, and even a huge expansion of New York's DNA database.
But the major bone of contention overnight was in regards to congressional redistricting.
Delmar Senate Democrat Neil Breslin says his fellow party members were right in the middle of making a case as to why the congressional lines being considered were "some of the most gerrymandered in the history of the state and country," when they were literally "cut off," by the Republican majority.
Breslin says the Democratic Conference protested the move to end the discussion, but because the group knew it did not have the necessary number of votes to block the proposed redistricting lines, and were being 'barred' from further debate, the entire Democratic membership walked out of the Senate Chamber.
Within minutes the redistricting measure passed by Senate Republicans unopposed.
Senator Breslin said, "By staying there we were giving legitimacy to something that was not legitimate. We were being stifled. We were told (we had) four hours (for debate). I was the one that was told four hours two times (by Republican leaders)."
Senate Republicans walking into a Rules Committee meeting right after the democrats' 'chamber walk out' were shocked.
Republican Senator Hugh Farley of Niskayuna said, "There's a two hour limit on a bill. That (redistricting bill discussion) was two hours and twenty minutes, and somebody called for that, and they just walked out. I don't know? I've never seen it happen in all the years I've been here."
But after speaking with their feet, New York Senate Democrats were physically agitated and outraged about being 'cut off' from an ongoing debate on the topic.
Noticeably upset, Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson said, "We're going back to pre-civil rights eras when individuals are denied the fundamental right to speak their mind, to advocate for the opportunity to vote, and this is what's going on in this chamber. They're (Republican Senators are) talking about how they've changed Albany? They haven't changed Albany! It's back to the way Albany used to be: dysfunction."
Democratic Senator Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx said, "We believe that this plan violates the Voting Rights Act, and we needed the time on the floor to be able to debate that. We were not given the opportunity. It is that simple. It is a plan that violates the Civil Rights Act. We believe that we were showing that, and we were demonstrating that through talking about the bill and asking questions about it, and they (Republicans) stopped all debate on it."
Democratic Senator from Manhattan Liz Krueger could barely hold her emotions back as she addressed the media after the 'walk out.'
Krueger said, "I then watched, as a white woman, 32 white votes to stop us from actually raising these issues on the floor of the Senate. Can you imagine? New York, in 2012, we're actually looking like some story of a southern state in the 1950's. It's very embarrassing."
Senator Farley was the only Republican Senator who agreed to speak with FOX23 News after the 'walk out.'
When asked if he thought the Senate Democrats had been given 'enough time' to debate such an 'important issue' Farley said, "I thought so."
FOX23 NEWS told Senator Farley that Senate Democrats felt that the newly passed redistricting lines brought New York state back to a 'pre-civil rights era' Farley said, "You know, I've been through four reapportionments, and this is one where I've seen four democrats vote for it, and I've never seen a single democrat ever vote for reapportionment before, so I think it was a very balanced one. And I've heard a number of people say they're very pleased."
But democrats say, they're not buying it.
Queens Democrat Michael Gianaris said, "It enshrines in the Constitution for the first time in modern history in any state in the union, a partisan advantage for one party over another that actually says if the republicans hold onto the chamber, they need fewer votes and tenures to pass a plan than if the democrats retake the chamber. It's outrageous."
Democrat Conference Leader Sampson said, "My conference will not participate in this. This is not democracy. This is a dictatorship by the majority. And we should all be concerned. Every New Yorker needs to be concerned."
Governor Cuomo does have the power to veto the redistricting bill, but according to the Associated Press, on Wednesday a senior administration official said the Governor will sign the measure before a federal judge takes up the issue on Thursday.
The A.P. says a judge can decide to order lines to be drawn by an independent court appointee.
The Cuomo Administration has defended the deal as the first step toward reforming the notorious redistricting process, while majority lawmakers also defended the election district lines.