It’s a dangerous time to be a politician
Will someone please give me a break? For years, I have been speaking of the “IPP” or “Incumbent Protection Plan.” Let’s face it — how hard is it to understand that when the people who serve on the New York state Legislature gets into office, they will take whatever actions are necessary to stay there? Will someone please tell me how these folks look themselves in the mirror every morning or pat their kids or grandchildren on the heads and tell them that they are elected to serve the people?
Look, I know many of these people and despite what I am writing here, I like them. They are fun, they are filled with ideas, and I would drink a club soda with them any time. My bet is that you would like them, too. In fact, all the polls tell us that while we hate the collective Legislature, we love our own guy who quite often looks, sounds and acts just like us. That, of course, leads to the question as to whether if one of us got elected to the Assembly or the Senate, we would behave exactly like these folks do. Of course we would. That’s why I would never run for office — I wouldn’t want to be one of them. The temptations are too great.
I have always said that if you hooked any of these people up to a lie detector and asked them, “Are you a good, honest, ethical person who is doing the people’s work,” they would answer, “Yes, I am good and I am doing the people’s work.” Trust me — the machine would register a flat line. These people have to believe that they are good and fair. Otherwise they couldn’t sleep at night. But the truth is that the whole process has become a self-serving mess. The voters know it and these are very dangerous times for politicians.
Everywhere I go, people tell me that it is time to throw them out and start over. In nearby Massachusetts, a Republican who was given no chance ended up in the United States Senate. Unthinkable, but a good measure of what politicians must be worrying about at 3 in the morning. I just read that Chuck Schumer is getting nervous as he watches his numbers fall.
People want to impose term limits on elected legislators in order to mitigate the self-serving nature of the Legislature. If our legislators were smart, they would hold their collective finger into the wind and sense the danger. They would institute whatever changes were necessary to make the election game fair. For example, they would disclose the names of every person who hired them in their outside jobs. This they refuse to do. Top leaders have told me that it is unfair, for example, to make a woman who hires a legislator for legal advice to disclose that she had gone to him seeking a divorce. Fine, make up your mind. Are you a legislator or are you a lawyer? We all know that people go to legislators who are lawyers because they think that the legislator has influence over the judge, in the form of a pay raise or maybe even an election. Power goes to power.
“Well,” the legislators would say, “If you don’t want us accepting outside work, you have to give us a pay raise.” Not really. Many people would work hard and without conflicts for the nearly $100,000 salary when all the perks are added up.
Of course, the winds of change are roaring all around us and Governor David Paterson is onto them. He knows what the people want, and he wants to give it to them. The Legislature passed a tepid series of rules reforms that just don’t go far enough. The bills are so lukewarm that there was only one negative vote in the whole Legislature. The message to Paterson was that they would override a gubernatorial veto. Well, I hope he does veto this piece of garbage. Let the Legislature override. Then the battle lines would be drawn. There would be our David with a slingshot and the legislative Goliath. The media would grab hold of the event.
If the Legislature does the right thing and passes a meaningful bill, they will forever be known as the group that put the “d” back in democracy. If they don’t, people will continue to hold them in contempt.
I want to see all politicians come forward, including the crusading Attorney General Andrew Cuomo who apparently wants to be governor. Let us know now whether you are with the people or the politicians. Now is the time to stand up and be counted and not in a muted voice, but loudly and clearly. The more David Paterson goes after the Legislature, the higher his poll numbers grow. They should. Let’s hope he inherits the wind.
Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 1/25/10