Maybe something good will come out of this

The weird keeps getting weirder. Now that Hiram Monserrate has announced his intention to return to the Democrats, the split between Republicans and Democrats would be 31 – 31. No session can take place and no bill can pass without 32 votes being present and voting Aye. But some good could come of all the nonsense in Albany. This provides an opportunity for a hopelessly corrupt political situation, where the majority oppresses the minority, to transform. It could actually force the Senate to become a truly bipartisan body. The Republicans, you will remember, have for three decades kept the minority Democrats on a tight leash, not allowing them to pass bills (no matter how good) and not giving every senator to have the same amount of pork to bring home to their districts. The majority party got more staff, bigger and better offices, and lots more. All of this could potentially be resolved by making everyone play well together.

The Democrats (for a change) have blown a golden opportunity to make change, since Malcolm Smith has proven himself to be an inept leader. He had the opportunity to pass ethics and procedural reform but decided instead to play the same-old-same-old game by doing unto the Republicans what they had done unto the Democrats. Even those in his own conference who did not meet his expectations of loyalty were punished. He had the added bonus of having some really despicable soldiers in his army, including the aforementioned Monserrate, the indicted alleged slasher of his girlfriend’s face, and one Pedro Espada who seems to be so in it for himself that good government and good policy making are taking the farthest pew back in the church of ethics reform. To add insult to injury, Espada has been made the president pro tem of the Senate. This means that God forbid, should anything happen to David Paterson, Espada, one of the top miscreants in the game, would actually become the governor.

Clearly, the Democrats in New York state are in the ascendancy and just as clearly, they will soon be the majority. Their problem is that they have a major reapportionment coming up and if the Republicans are able to redistrict in an incomprehensively unfair fashion once again, democracy will be set back. The Republicans should know that if they don’t pass ethics reform now, they will join their Republican colleagues in the Assembly as an endangered species. Now is the time for everyone in the Senate to get together and make some much needed changes.

Here’s what they might look like: every Senator gets the same amount of goodies to give out in their districts. Every Senator gets the same office space, and equivalent secretarial and staff help. The redistricting process is given over to a third party who will fairly draw what approximates compact and contiguous districts and the gerrymander will be left as a vestige of the past. The question now in this high stake game of craps is whether both sides will see that it is in their own best interest to make these compromises.

So if we actually end up with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans sharing power in the State Senate, who would break the tie? If we had one, it would be the lieutenant governor. Now Espada, the president pro tem, says that he gets two votes – one as a Senator and one as the acting lieutenant governor. That would be a travesty. Nobody gets two votes. Some have argued that David Paterson, who was the lieutenant governor before he succeeded to the governorship, has as much right to the vote of both the governor and the lieutenant governor as Espada does.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the now indicted former Republican Majority Leader, Joe Bruno, has had a change of heart and is now arguing for the right of gay people to marry. Some see this as a blatant attempt to pull openly gay Sen. Tom Duane over the line to become a Republican. If that is the case, it won’t work. Duane is too good a man to let that happen.

So, New York politics gets stranger and stranger and while part of me hates to say so, I’m having the time of my life. I actually see the possibility of something good coming out of this.

Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/19/09

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