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Save Our District Again

It’s census time, which means reapportionment time is coming. Reapportionment occurs each decade and involves redrawing legislative-district lines, including for Congress.

Although new congressional-district lines will take effect for the 2022 elections, it’s time to look ahead to our decennial fight to save our congressional district.

Decade after decade, New York has lost congressional seats. That means remaining New York congressional districts have had to grow geographically. The same will likely occur after the 2020 census.

Since the post-2010-census reapportionment, Western New York broadly understood has had four whole congressional districts: One each for Buffalo and Rochester plus some of their surroundings, and two others.

The two others roughly run west to east. One starts in parts of Niagara and Erie counties, and runs east into the Finger Lakes region. The other starts in Chautauqua County, and runs east along the Southern Tier and into other parts of the Finger Lakes region.

One challenge for these two west-to-east districts is that the northern, western, and southern borders of the two of them together include the Buffalo-area and Rochester-area districts, plus Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and Pennsylvania. So these two districts can extend only eastward.

When they do, they extend into other districts. Something has to give.

One fear following each recent census has been that one of these decades, geometry may in effect suggest such west-to-east district lines instead be drawn north to south.

So far, that hasn’t happened.

We in the congressional district running along the Southern Tier and into parts of the Finger Lakes region need to make sure it doesn’t happen after the 2020 census, regardless of which candidate or political party would prevail in any congressional election. Among the reasons are these two.

¯ First, with our common interests, we in this district are best represented by a single member of Congress.

The region is predominantly rural and has a few small cities.

It has such common economic interests as agriculture, the Ceramic Corridor, and tourism. Chautauqua Institution in the west and the Corning Glass Museum in the east have long been among New York’s biggest tourist attractions.

The Appalachian Regional Commission’s decision long ago to link the region with the Southern Tier Expressway, which has become Interstate 86, shows that government has already seen the importance of uniting the region.

¯ Second, at least for now, north-to-south lines may well combine part or all of one or more Southern Tier counties with parts of Niagara or Erie counties, including Buffalo suburbs.

However, Southern Tier counties have more in common with each other than with such northern neighbors.

Moreover, combining part or all of one or more Southern Tier counties with such northern neighbors may well to some extent make us a mere satellite of them.

Does this mean Niagara or Erie county residents, or candidates from there, aren’t good people? No. It means the biggest counties can quite naturally predominate, even if everyone from there has the best of intentions.

Anyone needing examples of such predomination should look to (1) the congressional district starting in parts of Niagara and Erie counties and running east into the Finger Lakes region, and (2) the New York state Supreme Court in Western New York.

Except following the 2000 census, when Chautauqua County fell into a district with Erie County, efforts to save our congressional district have been largely successful.

This battle has never been easy.

Given the geometry of the current Western, Central, Northern, and Upstate New York congressional districts, the coming battle may be the toughest yet.

Nevertheless, we need to save our district again.

Chautauqua County resident Randy Elf has written a similar column after each recent census.

Copyright (ç) 2020 by Randy Elf.

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