Governor Kathy Hochul recently signed redistricting legislation to create new districts for the 26 US House of Representatives in New York State, 63 State Senators, and 150 Assembly members. Redistricting is a process that occurs every ten years and follows the decennial US Census. The first elections for the new districts will be in June, when New York has a series of state and federal primaries, followed by the November 2022 general election.
Redistricting this year has changed things for the Adirondack Park in both subtle and substantial ways. Click here for a good interactive map of the current and new districts.
New York has an independent, bipartisan commission that takes the lead on redistricting. The ten-member panel has 5 Democrats and 5 Republicans. But they could not agree on one set of maps (big surprise), and each side published their own proposal. Since the Commission disagreed, the matter was sent to the Legislature. After Hochul signed the new districts into law, several lawsuits were filed to challenge the new maps, but prospects are dim that these legal options will be successful.
Three critical factors shaped the redistricting process in New York this year. This first was that New York’s population grew at a rate of 4.2% from 2010 to 2020, topping 20 million residents for the first time in the state’s history. While Upstate politicians like to talk about people leaving New York in droves, the opposite happened in recent years, and over 800,000 new New Yorkers put down roots. In 2020, New York State residents totaled 20,201,249, up from 19,378,102 in 2010, a gain of 823,147 new residents. The five counties in New York City posted the biggest gains, seeing 628,682 new residents.
While New York State gained over 800,000 people, the ten downstate counties gained some 828,352 new residents, exceeding the state’s overall growth. That means that in the 52 counties spread through Upstate New York, there was a total net loss of over 5,000 residents from 2010 to 2020. Beyond Upstate’s flat population is the fact that small cities in Upstate saw gains, such as Buffalo, Rochester, and the Capital District.
For the State Senate, downstate gained two seats among the 63 Senate districts, which would shift from Upstate. For the State Assembly, roughly six seats shifted from Upstate to Downstate.
The second major factor is that this was the first redistricting process in decades controlled by one party. In the past, such as 1990, 2000, and 2010, the Democrats controlled the State Assembly and the Republicans controlled the State Senate. The two houses agreed that the majority in each house would draw their districts, which, of course, favored their members and limited opportunities for the other party. Hence, the Ds maintained control in the Assembly, and the Rs controlled the Senate.
While each party held their own majorities in their respective chamber, they historically split seats for Congress. In this way, despite New York having far more enrolled Democrats than Republicans, there were always far more Republicans elected to Congress than their numbers would seem to warrant.
Like it or not, the third factor is that New York State got bluer. In 1996, there were 10.1 million registered voters: 4.7 million Democrats; 3 million Republicans; and, 2.05 million Independents. In 2021, there were 13.4 million registered voters: 6.75 million Democrats, 2.9 million Republicans; and, 3 million Independents. Democrats and Independents grew substantially, but Republican party enrollment has been flat for the last 25 years.
So, what does 2022 redistricting mean for the Adirondacks?
Let’s start with the State Senate. The Adirondack Park will now be cut between four Senate districts, but most of the park will be in two districts. The new 47th Senate District has Clinton, Essex, Hamilton, Warren, Washington counties, and parts of Saratoga and Fulton. As represented by 2020 voting patterns, this district got redder than the old 45th. Dan Stec from Queensbury has represented this district, and the fact that it’s now even more Republican than his old district will likely keep him in office for as far as the crow wants to fly. Stec lost Franklin County in this new district but gained Hamilton and parts of Fulton counties. Goodbye Tupper Lake, hello Great Sacandaga Reservoir.
The western half of the Adirondack Park is in a newly drawn 50th Senate District and has Franklin, St. Lawrence, Herkimer, and Lewis counties. This district, as represented by 2020 voting patterns, got redder than the old 47th. Patty Ritchie, from St. Lawrence County, has represented this district for years. Tiny parts of the southern Adirondack Park are also in the new 49th and the 51st districts, each represented by Republican incumbents and redder than their predecessors.
The flip side is that while North Country Senate districts in and around the Adirondack Park got redder, there are new Senate districts across New York that got a lot bluer. From Buffalo to Rochester to Ithaca to Troy and Saratoga Springs, to the Hudson Valley and Long Island, newly drawn districts favors Democrats. Currently, in the State Senate there are 43 Democrats and 20 Republicans, but after the election in November, Democrats could have something like a 50-13 majority. With the looming reality of life in the endless political minority, long-time North Country State Senator Patty Ritchie from St. Lawrence County just announced she’s not running again.
What does it mean for the Adirondacks to have no members in the Senate majority? At one time, an Adirondack Senator named Ron Stafford sat in an ironclad majority and was Chairman of the Senate Finance committee for two decades and millions and millions of state dollars rained down on the Adirondacks and North Country. At that time, Republicans had such a grip on power that they’d turn off the heat in the offices of Democrat Senators. Those days are long gone.
The State Assembly picture is much the same. Right now, and there are some vacancies, Democrats hold a 106-44 majority. With new district lines that shifted with downstate population growth, Democrats could see a 115 to 35 advantage come November.
Currently, Billy Jones from Chateaugay, a Democratic Assembly member, saw his district get bluer as he retained Frankin and Clinton counties, while dropping eastern St. Lawrence in exchange for northern Essex County towns like North Elba, Wilmington, Keene and St. Armand. Goodbye Lake Ozonia, hello Cascades.
The remaining Assembly districts across the Adirondacks are all cut with Republican majorities. Matt Simpson, a Republican from Brant Lake in Warren County, and Robert Smullen, a Republican from Herkimer, will run in redrawn and even redder districts. Assembly redistricting around Upstate cities could mean that there will be more Upstate Democrats like Jones elected. A bigger, louder and prouder, caucus of Upstate Democrats in the Assembly majority could help to more effectively spotlight rural and Adirondack Park issues. Jones and Simpson can also duke it out to see who is the true Assembly rep of the High Peaks. For his part, Robert Smullen, whose current district was geographically incoherent, stretching from Mayfield to Massena, now has a compact district centered primarily on Hamilton and Herkimer counties.
While Republicans have decried a flawed and rigged redistricting process, they may also want to look at party registration trends in New York. In the last 25 years, Democrats in New York grew their party by over 2 million people, and they’re likely to break 7 million in enrollment by this November, while Republicans actually saw their ranks drop to under 3 million.
In Congress, New York lost one House seat through national reapportionment of the 435 Congressional seats based on the national population. So, redistricting in New York for Congress not only saw a reduction of seats from 27 to 26, but then also had to contend with downstate population growth, which was roughly the size of one Congressional district that shifted downstate. For the first time ever, Democrats unilaterally drew a new Congressional map and it seems that come November, New York could go from 19 Ds and 8 Rs to 22 Ds and 4 Rs.
The Adirondack Park and North Country are represented by Republican Elise Stefanik. This district got bigger geographically and redder politically. Rural areas south of the Mohawk River that had been represented by Democrats Anthony Delgado and Paul Tonko are now part of Stefanik’s district. While clipped on its western edge along Lake Ontario, Stefanik’s new district was redrawn to stretch south to include Oneida Lake, Schoharie County, and Rennselaer County.
Residents of Cobleskill went from Democrat Delgado to Republican Stefanik. On the flip side, Glens Falls and Queensbury switched from Republican Stefanik to Democrat Paul Tonko.
Across New York, from the State Assembly to State Senate to Congress, there were very few “competitive” districts newly drawn. Almost all districts were drawn to the benefit of one party or the other.
How this all plays out remains to be seen, but it seems that Democrats like Billy Jones will be working with an even bigger majority, while Republicans like Dan Stec, and whichever Republican takes Patty Ritchie’s place, and Matt Simpson and Robert Smullen, will be working within even smaller minorities.
The current US House of Representatives is controlled narrowly by Democrats, who face historic ill political winds where the party of the sitting President usually gets wiped out in Congressional mid-term elections. Redistricting maps that favor Democrats in New York also happened in Illinois, Colorado, Oregon, and California, to offset similar Republican moves in Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, and Florida. Unlike the State Assembly and State Senate in New York, we won’t know the political control of the US House of Representatives until November.