What would you do if you were the Republican Party in New York state?
Right now, they appear to be doing everything in their power to make sure that they lose control of the Senate. They are perceived as a corrupt group of thugs because of the way in which they tried like crazy to support their now ousted Majority Leader, Dean Skelos. Skelos, you will certainly recall, lost his job because U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara accused him of unethical, to say nothing of illegal, actions. So what did the Republicans do to replace their leader? They seem to have allowed Skelos to choose his own replacement. The new man is John Flanagan who, like Skelos, is a Long Islander and who will ensure that the downstaters will continue to control the upper house. Upon receiving this honor, Flanagan immediately quit his law firm where he was making somewhere around an extra $150,000 a year.
Bharara has been working hard to de-stink the legislature. Like the rest of us, he knows that the reason one goes to the law firm of a senator is to get a little extra heft in your legal affairs. Bharara arrested and indicted Speaker Sheldon Silver for using his influence to bring business to his law firm. Now there are a lot of knees knocking in Albany, from the very top of the gubernatorial administration on the famous “Second Floor” where the governor sits, through the rank and file in both houses. Ever since Bharara told everyone to “stay tuned” for the next indictments, the members of the Legislature have been worried about who would be next. Some are trying to clean up their acts by quitting their law practices. Others are blindly going down the same path that got their leaders into such trouble. You might think that with the wolf knocking at their door, the solons would clean up their acts and pass true ethics reform; this is probably the only thing that will save them and their soiled reputations. For his part, Flanagan courts disaster by suggesting that this is not the year to pass real ethics reform. He and his Republican conference are sticking their heads in the sand, just like their ostrich cousins. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Of course, we have a presidential election coming up. Democrats will turn out in large numbers and the possibility of a Democratic controlled Senate is very real. For his part, Andrew Cuomo, who is largely responsible for keeping the Republicans in power, is in a tough spot. In fact, the game may well be up for him. Not only has Republican Skelos been arrested, so has his deputy leader, Thomas Libous. The Republicans are kept in office due to the efforts of Simcha Felder, a Democrat who works with them, and four other so-called Democrats who seem to ally with the highest bidder.
When it looks like it’s time to jump ship these characters will.
So what should the Republicans do to stay in office? First, they should pass the strongest, most airtight ethics bill that has ever seen the light of day in New York. Second, they should kick Libous and Skelos out of their party and the Senate. Even if they have to go into the minority for a while, they would demonstrate to the people of New York state that they are better equipped to serve than the Democrats who are also ethically challenged and doing precious little about it. This is indeed the time to make historic changes. Let’s face it; there are members of the Republican Senate conference who are quite elderly. They can’t hang on forever. As I said many times, even if the state doesn’t have term limits, God does. It’s just so obvious that they are in “check” and almost check mate. If they don’t move now they are cooked. My bet is that they won’t take my advice.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 5/19/15