Majority senators are more equal than minority members

One of the funniest quotes of the New Year comes from state Senator Vincent Leibell. He told an upstate newspaper that no matter who wins the state Senate, Democrats or Republicans, the two parties would have to work closely together because their numbers would be so close. Of course, the beauty of his remark is that the numbers have been close for years, and the majority Republicans have treated the Democrats in the Senate like dirt under their feet. Even when the Republicans ruled by as slim a margin as one or two votes, the Democrats were still treated as second-class citizens. Why all of a sudden that would change is a bit of a mystery.

The Democrats have been yelling for years about how unfair the system is, saying all along that if they were to get into power they would treat everyone more fairly than the Republicans treated them. I have spoken with a number of Democrats and here’s the tip-off: when I’ve asked them how they would treat the Republicans, they say things like, “I would like to think that we would treat them fairly.” Yeah, and I would like to think that if I won the lottery I would give half of it to charity. Maybe I would, but I’ll never know until I get there.

Power corrupts, and we need look no further than to the incumbent Republicans for lessons in that. I once taught a course called “The Creation and Maintenance of Political Power.” The basic premise is that once power is created, those who have it will do virtually anything to hold onto it. All kinds of promises get made in order to get into office but once they are there, as George Orwell’s pigs in “Animal Farm” remind us, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

We also know something about the Democrats. Some of the Senate Democrats, such as Liz Krueger and Neil Breslin, are as ethical as they come. However, some of Krueger’s colleagues on the Democratic side are neither democratic (small “d”) nor ethical. We have just witnessed the feeding frenzy that occurred when the ethically challenged Gang of Four (and then there were Three) gave us a rare insight into how Albany politics are played — something like the horse-trading, log-rolling, back-scratching or even worse, sausage-making days of yore.

Many New Yorkers just roll their eyes, convinced that the hanky panky and the disgusting, self-serving nature of the Legislature will always be with us. Then there are the “white hats” or “goo-goos” (good government groups) like the New York Public Interest Research Group, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause to name just a few. These guys, especially the indefatigable Blair Horner of NYPIRG, try their best to put the spotlight on the aforementioned “more equal pigs” as they try one self-serving move after another.

Now, however, things are bad, very bad.

Whatever good work the government has been doing is threatened. The electorate is growing restless. Some of their houses are being foreclosed. That is the one thing that will turn a middle class person into a revolutionary.

Everyone will be landing on these people, screaming “Do something — anything!”There are two things that will be most appealing to our politicians. The first is bail-out.They want the government to do for the little guys what it has done for the banks and car companies. The logic is inescapable that the big boys are making out like bandits and are, in fact, bandits. The logic seems to be, “If we can bail out the banks, why can’t we bail the rest of us out?” Damned good question.

The second Hail Mary approach involves soaking the rich by raising their taxes. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others don’t like that idea since it will surely encourage more rich people to leave New York. Rich people pay taxes. Nevertheless, when times are tough people will try anything to cover their behinds.

Tough times are ahead for politicians.

Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 1/9/09

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