Senators seeking re-election have a reason to worry
Lately, I have spoken with a couple of so-called “safe” state legislators who are scared. They are worried because the common wisdom among the electorate is that politicians are self-serving and don’t give a hoot about the people they represent. These legislators fear there is going to be a revolutionary chant among the voters to “Just say no.”
It is true, of course, that “realigning elections” occur. This sort of thing happens after a Watergate scandal when the public yells “Enough,” pulls down the pants of the politicians and kicks enough of them out of office to give them all the cold sweats. Mind you, I am hearing from politicians who are scared that this sentiment among the electorate may take hold, not only in the state Senate where there are more miscreants than cockroaches, but across the board. A friend of mine in the Assembly called me up one morning when I was exercising on my bike and gently let me have it for not pointing out that the Assembly members had done their work while it was the senators who fiddled as Albany burned. He’s got a point.
It is axiomatic in politics that everyone hates the Legislature as an institution but loves their own guy. That’s true and is one reason why most of these people are safe, no matter how despicable their actions are. But remember that in the state Senate, where apportionment is coming up, this has been a fight to the death and the parties are absolutely divided. The Republicans are scared witless because they have more 80-year-old senators holding onto seats that will turn Democratic as soon as the seat becomes “open.” It is, as I think Superman used to say, “…a fight to the death.” They can’t let go. The minute they do, they are out of power, possibly forever. Right now the lobbyists think the Republicans may have a shot at holding onto power so they channel money to them. If the Republicans go out of power, the money stream slows to a trickle. In politics where money is “mother’s milk,” that could be a disaster.
It is not the safe senators and Assembly members who have to worry about the howling winds of change, but it is those who are marginally safe; these are the people who only win by a few votes. They could really be hurt and that’s what has the politicians so worried. A few votes in the wrong direction and either party could be out of power. The saving grace for them is that there have been no heroes in the recent Senate standoff. The people hate them all. Like the mule that had to be reminded by a whack with a two-by- four, these guys just don’t get it. It is unlikely that people are going to vote their own state legislator out of office when the people they would be voting for are perceived to be just as bad. Of course, if a “Just-say-no” campaign does get going, the results could be unpredictable then you could have candidates like Tom Golisano, the billionaire who moved to Florida to save a few bucks but still seems to want to make change in New York. But think about it — why would anyone listen to that hypocrite who won’t pull his fair share of the tax burden cart?
In the meantime, the recent chaos has brought with it some silver linings. In order to win, the Republicans have already promised a new deal in which every senator gets the same office space and the same staff and the right to bring bills to the floor. The Democrats will have to follow suit. Maybe, we’ll see. Even New York’s reputation as the most dysfunctional legislature in the country seems to have been saved with a helping hand from California, which has had some real trouble in passing a budget and had to issue IOUs to pay its debt.
No matter, the whole deal is dirty. Politicians are in disgrace and if some of them are worried about being thrown out of office, that is all to the good. I am still an optimist and still see that democracy has a shot at restoration. Sometimes things have to hit bottom before they get better. I think that the political elevator has reached the basement. It’s a simple proposition: These people ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/10/09