Photo: Suffolk County Legislature/Facebook

We’ve watched, at first with bewilderment, and then with outrage, the ongoing efforts of the county legislature’s Democratic caucus to redraw district boundaries before Republicans take the reins of power Jan. 1.

The reapportionment of legislative districts at all levels of government takes place after every decennial census. It never fails to bring out the worst in politicians, who recognize reapportionment as an opportunity to tighten their grip on a legislative body, expand their power, and freeze out the other side wherever possible. It’s a process ripe for abuse and districts can take on some funky configurations as a result.

Governments have laws that aim, at least theoretically, to prevent that abuse. The laws spell out processes that must be followed for reapportionment. Often the task is delegated to a commission that is, in theory, supposed to be ‘independent’ or ‘nonpartisan.’

But the rules can be very inconvenient for a party that’s just lost majority control of a legislative body and control of the reapportionment process — the position Suffolk Democrats found themselves in after last month’s election, which gave Republicans an 11-7 majority in the county legislature.

So the Democrats brazenly decided to just ignore the rules.

When the Republican minority leader didn’t name members to the county reapportionment commission by the deadline set by the county charter — he was six days late — the Democrats decided the missed deadline empowered them to bypass the commission altogether. They developed a redistricting plan on their own, without public input — until after the maps were drawn — and without input from the Republican caucus. And then they scheduled a public hearing on the plan and have forged ahead with its adoption.

Nothing in the charter allows them to do this. In fact, the charter spells out very specifically how the reapportionment process is supposed to work. The charter gives the legislature authority to draw the map only if the commission is not able to produce a map by Feb. 1.

A State Supreme Court judge called the legislature’s actions unlawful and ruled the legislature has no legal authority to act before Feb. 1.

But Feb. 1 is too late for the Democrats, because they will be in the minority come Jan. 1.

Two trial court judges have ordered the legislature not to act — and both times the Democrats have gotten their orders stayed by an Appellate Division justice in Brooklyn. This happened most recently yesterday and the presiding officer scheduled another special meeting for Friday, the last day of the year and the last day of his party’s majority control, to adopt the Democrats’ redistricting plan.

An attorney for the Republicans called the Democrats’ behavior a “naked power grab.” We agree.

Democrats say their plan is a good one and argue that it meets all constitutional requirements for reapportionment. That may be the case, but the process they followed is all wrong and cannot stand. The end does not justify the means.

We urge First District Legislator Al Krupski, who we believe to be an independent thinker — we note he broke with his party to vote against recessing the meeting on Monday — to do the right thing here and reject the Democratic leadership’s power grab. Krupski alone cannot tip the scale in favor of what is right, but maybe his example will inspire another Democratic lawmaker to follow the law as well.

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.