Downsizing of the Chautauqua County Legislature has been a topic of discussion for some time. The truth is that most of those in favor of a smaller legislature live in the cities and most of those in rural areas are not in favor of losing representation.
After the U.S. census numbers were released in late March, the Republican Caucus moved forward with a plan to decrease the legislature from 25 to 19 members. This seemed like a fair compromise between those that did not want downsizing and those that did. This represents a reduction of 24 percent of the legislature while the population decreased 3.5 percent.
Recent criticisms from Democrats concerning the plan for the redistricting of Chautauqua County are unfounded as they had the same opportunity to plan for redistricting as the Republicans. For more than a year the Republicans have stated they would be ready to hit the ground running when the official U.S. Census numbers were released. Any premature decisions to reapportion would have wasted time and resources because of the inaccuracy of drawing district lines. Keeping with our word, we contacted a consultant with expertise in redistricting in advance and were able to meet with him the day after the U.S. Census numbers were released. We hired the consultant at no taxpayer expense. The Democrats had every opportunity to do the same, but failed to do so.
The Election Law calendar and the late release of official U.S. Census numbers have put everyone in a difficult position. Mr. Ahlstrom himself "predicted" that we would have 25 legislators for two more years and it would be the fault of Republican stall tactics while failing to mention that it took the legislature two tries after the 2000 census because it was the same compressed time frame. Democrats thought that the Republicans were not going to be successful in completing a redistricting plan this year. Meanwhile, their plan has been to criticize our work while accomplishing nothing.
Why should our county Planning Department be required to purchase the necessary software update for over $3,800 and then pay someone to be trained to devise a plan? We did not feel that it was right to spend taxpayer dollars for this issue. The Republican leadership worked for days in person, over the phone and via email with the consultant to devise a plan that would be fair to all county residents.
While drawing the map, our main objective was to draw districts that resemble the current districts as much as possible, keeping like neighborhoods together and not favoring either party's incumbents. We did not use, nor were we aware of the political makeup of any district until after the final plan had been approved by the Reapportionment Commission. In fact, the final plan that was approved unanimously by the Reapportionment Commission gives the Democrats a registration edge in 10 districts, Republicans an advantage in 8 districts and one district is even. This is hardly what could be called gerrymandering to protect Republican Legislators.
While everyone is not totally happy with the way the final plan turned out after multiple plans were considered, it is the best plan possible. The unfounded criticism for how towns were split is based on the how the rules for reapportionment are written. Unfortunately, splits must be made where the people are, not where there is a natural municipal boundary.
The final plan creates an east and west district around Chautauqua Lake, splits the city of Jamestown into like neighborhoods, keeps the city and town of Dunkirk together and keeps like rural areas together as much as possible. We were able to come up with a plan that only splits six towns versus the current plan developed by the Democrats in 2002 splitting nine towns.
The final plan that was unanimously approved by the Reapportionment Commission allows for an equal number of incumbent Democrats and Republicans to face off. The plan also has a population difference of 8.4 percent from the smallest to the largest district, well within the 10 percent required by one person-one vote. After the Democrats came to the redistricting meeting unprepared, Republicans allowed them to use their consultant and computer software to adjust the boundaries as they saw fit. This courtesy has never before been afforded to the other side in the history of redistricting in Chautauqua County. All final work on the plan was to the satisfaction of all five members of the bipartisan commission, who then voted unanimously to pass the plan onto a public hearing and a vote in the Legislature.
A reapportionment plan has been put forward with the unanimous support of the commission, that is until it seems, the county Democrat Chairman, Keith Ahlstrom, objected. The public needs to ask the question, why weren't the Democrats prepared to present a plan as the Republicans did?
The Democrats have spent the last week trying to derail this plan from every angle. The Republicans have made every effort to downsize for a fair redistricting. Now it's time to find out which legislators really favor a County Legislature downsizing.