Cuomo’s agenda has helped elevate Legislature

We all know that Andrew Cuomo has an amazing seventy-plus percent approval rating. That’s one grade, but as a professor, I’m allowed to give grades, too. I would give him a B for his ethics regulations which did not go far enough in providing us necessary information and gave the Senate Republicans undue influence in choosing who would sit on the state ethics panel. He deserves an A for his honcho-ing of marriage equity. He not only earned that A but he received a lot of campaign cash from those who pushed the bill.

Unfortunately, he gets a D minus for his collaboration with his Department of Environmental Conservation on a very dangerous hydrofracking policy that could potentially bring a lot of needed revenue into state coffers but have a terrible impact on much of the state’s drinking water. Don’t worry, if you live in New York City or Syracuse your water will be protected but if you live anywhere else in the state, your kids may have to drink water that has been compromised (another word for poisoned) by the dangerous chemicals that are used in the fracking process. To those who might end up with a little benzene in their water, the governor seems to be saying, “Tough noogies.” Maybe the people who live in the unprotected area will have to buy bottled water for their kids. I know I would.

The tax cap that has been imposed by the governor and the Legislature is a work in progress. Since we don’t really know about the unintended consequences to the state’s cities and villages that will have to make drastic cuts in education, health care and road building among other services, we’ll have to give the governor an incomplete on that one.

Ironically, according to the prestigious Siena Poll, Cuomo gets a very high grade for helping his fellow politicians, the denizens of the Legislature. It turns out that for all these years, the Legislature has been very badly regarded by the state’s population. As any three year old can tell you, the people hate the Legislature but they love their own representative. Like the old Soviet Union, the Legislature practices something called “Democratic Centralism.” That means that theoretically the members elect a leader who then has tremendous power to set the agenda and rule in a pretty much dictatorial fashion. Sometimes the leader does very good things but when it comes to the perks of the Legislature (turning the public good into the personal good), his job is to protect the interests of the members who make out like bandits. In other words, the leader takes the heat. That’s why it has been so hard to get a decent ethics bill, for example. But along comes Cuomo and quite correctly reads the public mind and insists on ethics reform. As noted above, he compromises a little too much but he gets his bill. He gets his tax cap, he gets a “no texting while driving bill” and he gets a huge public approval rating. But the pollsters also note that the ratings of the Legislature (which most people love to hate) go up, too. In other words, by insisting on progress the governor has actually helped the Legislature win greater public approval. It turns out that when they stop acting like adolescent kids in a game of chicken, the people notice and like it.

Now the governor will have to make them behave when it comes to redistricting. He will veto their self-serving gerrymandering and leave it to the courts that can’t help but draw fairer lines than these people creating their own incumbent protection districts. What we really need is a commission comprised of distinguished judges or professors (I will not serve) to do that work. The Legislature, seeing the train coming down the track, might opt for a commission rather than take their chances with a judge who might do even more damage to them. Ironically, Cuomo will get credit for that too and the Legislature will get even higher grades. In other words, it turns out that Cuomo has saved them from their own base instincts. Go figure.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/18/11

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