No wonder people hold their noses when they talk about state govt

The race for the New York State Senate is on in earnest. To understand how important this race is, one has to look no further than the failed effort last year to increase the minimum wage by just a few dollars. The Republican state Senate said no, the Democratic Assembly said yes, and Governor Andrew Cuomo was largely absent from the fight. The newly minted fiscally conservative governor muttered something about the effort to raise the minimum wage being premature although he was in favor of it in principle. In short, he was with the Republicans who said no. Ironically, he soon travelled to North Carolina to give a rip-snorting speech at the national convention about the evil Republicans. In any case, had the state Senate been under Democratic control, Cuomo might have had a much tougher time putting a stop to the minimum wage raise. Not surprisingly, the betting is heavily in favor of Cuomo signing on to a hike that would give legislators and his staff raises.

Cuomo is therefore a little concerned that the Democrats will take control of the state Senate, to the degree that he has made comments largely in favor of re-electing those Republicans who voted for the gay marriage bill. The defeat of just one or two Republicans to the state Senate may just move the balance of power to the Democrats. Let’s remember that Cuomo failed to deliver on his promise to veto any redistricting bill that did not have an outside group of experts doing the redistricting. Once that happened, the Republican leader, Dean Skelos, was free to design districts where he could give his members the best chance of winning reelection.

Let there be no doubt about it – Cuomo has good reason to worry about his nominally fellow Democrats seizing control of the upper house. The last time they had it, they messed things up terribly, fighting among themselves, establishing separate caucuses and giving leadership positions and perks to a few people who thought that election to power guaranteed them the right to steal. Instead of selecting the best among them like Senator Liz Krueger (a splendid example of altruistic decency), they continued to select people based on certain in-group qualifications that have nothing to do with competency. They have been frequently characterized as a “circular firing squad.” Put another way, they don’t know how to get out of their own way.

With that said, there is the small matter of democracy. The fact that Cuomo and Skelos have fixed the game by being allowed to draw districts where the Republicans will have a better chance of winning makes me wince. And we’re the ones who are supposedly exporting our democratic values to far-off lands? Will you give me a break?

Let’s remember that this is a blue, Democratic state. There’s a huge Democratic majority in the State Assembly. The fact that the Senate is Republican shows you the power of the gerrymander. Of course a huge turnout is predicted in this year’s national elections with President Barack Obama leading the ticket. This means that Democrats who turn out will be around to vote for other Democrats down the ticket. In at least one Upstate district, the defeat of a pro-gay marriage Republican may turn out to be the kiss of death for the Republican Party as repulsed middle-of-the-roaders may want to punish the Tea Party-type winner of that primary and vote for her opponent. For the reasons articulated above, that has to scare the Republicans and, frankly, the governor, who may end up having to deal with an irascible bunch of Democrats who have been known to defy the laws of good behavior.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 10/16/12

No wonder people hold their noses when they talk about state government.

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