State senators are making fools of themselves

Things are getting really confusing in Albany. The way it stands now, only two votes separate the majority Republicans and the minority Democrats in the state Senate. If one vote changes and the Senate is split 31 to 31, the lieutenant governor gets to vote for one side or another. Since the lieutenant governor is a Democrat, what would a reasonable person expect him to do?

The problem for the Republicans is that they have among their ranks a bunch of very senior citizens who face the term limits established not by the state but by the laws of God or nature, whichever you prefer. If a single Republican seat changes, the minority Democrats, who hardly proved themselves when they had their first chance at power since the early sixties, will be back in the saddle with all the chaos and ineptitude that they brought to the last session. Their greed, in-fighting and general stupidity seemed to have no limits. So, by a few measly votes, out they went in the last election. To put it mildly, they deserved what they got. It is unclear whether the people deserved what they got.

Into all of this rode Governor Andrew Cuomo, who unlike the previously elected governor, Eliot Spitzer, seemed to be in love with the more conservative Republicans in the upper house. That’s easy to understand. Democrat Cuomo, now the darling of conservative publishing baron Rupert Murdoch, has been acting like his newfound mentor of the right. He has no choice since the state is broke. What he doesn’t need is a bunch of rhetorically inspired Democratic Senators who never met a government program they didn’t like.

In fact, while Spitzer worked hard to elect Democrats, Democrat Andrew seems to have rushed in to embrace the Republicans and their leader, Senator Dean Skelos. But, as I said, Skelos and his band of Republicans have a problem. If just once of his Republican Senate members hits the dust (as in takes the long sleep or is indicted and convicted) he is in real trouble. Under the existing rules, Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy, a previously unknown (“who-he?”) Rochester mayor, gets to vote and that will cause chaos. So, the Republicans are trying to do it the old fashioned way — they are changing the rules because they can. Just think of changing the rules to Monopoly or Scrabble in the middle of the game.

Hey, a lot is riding on this. For example, we have constitutionally mandated redistricting coming up this year and to the victors go the spoils no matter what petition to the contrary ex-New York City Mayor Koch has been circulating. The stakes are very high because there are a lot more Democrats than Republicans in New York state. Unless they can cleverly manipulate (gerrymander) voting districts, the Republicans will surely lose control in the Senate, something they believe the Almighty has mandated. So when in doubt, cheat. Change the rules so that the lieutenant governor cannot vote on Senate leadership.

This is all made more complicated by the fact that some principled Democrats have started their own caucus, having decided that the stench from their leadership is so bad.  They won’t caucus with the old guard Democrats who really messed things up. Being a clever fellow, Republican leader Skelos has tried to exacerbate the split among the Democrats and has indicated that some of the minority in the minority would be appointed committee chairs. Naturally, the minority Democrats said that it was their right to say which Democrats got which committee assignments and a verbal food fight broke out on the Senate floor with everyone making fools of themselves. The stink from the Senate grew even more pronounced.

The good government groups have sided with the foolish Democratic caucus and said Skelos was wrong to mess with the rules. The somewhat pompous Brennan Center for Justice at NYU spoke from on high saying the Republicans weren’t playing fair.  Since there is so much at stake, it is unclear whether the Republicans will retreat. Too much depends on it. Just remember, power corrupts and this is all predictable. Just look at what happened in a presidential election in Florida or across the world in Egypt or Tunisia. Once you have power, it is tough to give it up, especially when the people you are giving it up to have acted like fools.

As for me, I say, “Business as usual.” 

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 1/31/11

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