Red Ways Place Rural District In Peril

U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins could once again be representing Chautauqua County when new Congressional redistricting takes place.

Speculation has already begun to swirl. Will Chautauqua County be teamed again with the Buffalo region or will there remain a strong Southern Tier bond for a Congressional district in 2023?

Add in the uncertainty that comes with nearly four weeks of silence from current U.S. Rep. Tom Reed and it appears we could be back to a model that is solidly Western New York. From 2005 to 2012, our area had Rep. Brian Higgins as our voice. Two years prior to that it was Jack Quinn, a Republican powerhouse from Hamburg.

With U.S. Census figures due out in the coming weeks, it is expected New York could be losing two Congressional seats. Most of that population decline is expected to come from upstate, so it’s likely that if two seats are to be eliminated both will come from areas north of New York City.

Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, grew to appreciate the county during his previous eight-year tenure. “It is difficult to express in words the fondness we have for Chautauqua County and how we will miss representing the good people in the 27 towns, 15 villages and two cities that stretch across that region,” he said in a farewell thank you in early 2013. “The more you know Chautauqua County the more you love it and we truly love Chautauqua County.”

During Higgins’ stint, there was a greater balance when it came to party control. Democrat William Parment represented the region in the state Assembly and the 25-seat County Legislature had a narrow 13-12 split with the GOP having the edge.

Astoundingly, Higgins endorsed popular Republican Mayor Richard Frey in Dunkirk during the 2008 election in an announcement near the Boardwalk and City Pier. Those waves reverberated through the county. Some saw it as bipartisan spirit, others saw it as a bitter pill that ultimately led to a loss for the Democratic challenger.

Politics will definitely play a role in how the next district that includes Chautauqua County will shape up. With Democrats in control at a state level, this could be a way to add some blue to an area that is becoming a ruby red.

Parment, our former assemblyman, sees a partnership with urban Buffalo as a disadvantage. But, he notes, there is little that can be done to protect the current District 23 since this county leans right. “An important fact to consider is that the state government is completely controlled by the Democratic party for the first time in living memory,” he said. “Consequently the Democrats will control the action, and Chautauqua is a county represented in both houses of the State Legislature by Republicans (Andrew Goodell and George Borrello).”

By shifting away from common neighbors — those that have small-town characteristics similar to our lifestyle in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties– would be a drawback. Erie County has a population that is seven times greater than where we live, making metro Buffalo’s influence almost impossible to conquer.

In our current district that spans 13 counties from here to just outside of Binghamton, we are sitting pretty. Jamestown is one of the larger cities, second to only Ithaca. If this county was to keep a rural flavor in the redistricting process, it is then possible a candidate from this county could be representing us in Washington.

Teaming with Erie County? That makes for longer odds than the lowly Buffalo Sabres making the National Hockey League playoffs this year.

As for Reed, his impending retirement has already put his constituents at a disadvantage. It makes the region ripe for a shake-up. Change appears inevitable.

“When a Congressional district will have no incumbent in the election following redistricting, both political parties are inclined to make that seat the one to be eliminated,” Parment said.

History, the former local Assemblyman noted, refers to this arrangement that came about when the Constitutional Convention adopted the “Great Compromise.” It required that each state have two senators and representation in the House proportionate to population.

At the moment, he notes, this is not a winning formula for the home team. “It is altogether possible that Chautauqua County will be a victim of the Great Compromise,” he said.

That result equals less clout — and a much softer voice. It could be a long 10 years.

John D’Agostino is the editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 253.


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