Republicans face a quandary over abortion bill

Of course, Governor Andrew Cuomo is doing exactly the right thing by pushing a women’s agenda in the New York State Legislature. Among other things, Cuomo wants to make certain that the rights guaranteed by Roe v. Wade as set down by the United States Supreme Court are embodied in New York State law. This is just what is needed in New York since the present composition of the Supreme Court is conservative and it is more than possible that Roe v. Wade will be reversed. I really don’t care about what people say motivated Cuomo. I believe that, like his father before him, Andrew is a man of principle on this issue. His courage is indisputable and he has even come under attack from his own Roman Catholic Church, just as his father did years ago. On the other hand, the politics of the time are now with him.

The politics of New York State are weird. We all know that Cuomo can have almost anything he wants from the Legislature. His popularity is high while that of the legislators is low. The Republicans are in control of the state Senate because of Cuomo who clearly wants some allies to control what he considers a bunch of spendthrift Democrats in the Legislature. Nevertheless, the upstate Republicans have found themselves in a quandary. They know that women in the state want a bill that will assure them of their reproductive rights, including the right to have an abortion. If there is one thing that the post-presidential analysis shows, it is that Republicans lost much of the women’s vote. As a result, Republican leader Dean Skelos has to take the heat for his conference.

Way back in 1970, I recall how Assemblyman George Michaels showed exceptionally rare courage and changed his vote, and history, to vote for a woman’s right to choose. He knew that he would be turned out of office and he was. But here we are in 2013 and Michaels, who has since passed away, has gone down in history, remembered as what he was at the time — a brave man. Before that, Michaels’ most dramatic political action was sponsoring the bill that made the bluebird New York’s official state bird. Also, according to Wikipedia, he was a former World War II Marine who rose from private to captain during his service. As he stood on the floor, changing his vote and tearing up, he told the hushed room that his son had called him a whore. A second son begged him not to be the vote that defeated the bill. So, knowing that it was the end of his political career, he rose to change his vote from negative to affirmative on the bill. That’s how abortion was legalized in New York.

There are a number of relevant connections between what the New York State Senate has just faced and what the courageous George Michaels did back in 1970. Leader Skelos refused to allow what happened to Michaels to happen in his house. The last thing he wanted was a democracy where people would have to declare themselves, one way or the other. These Republican senators knew that they were facing a lose-lose situation. On the one hand, there was the potential for right wing wrath, including primaries like the ones that did in some of their colleagues on the gay marriage issue. On the other hand, there were all those women who would be infuriated if they felt betrayed by their elected representatives. The Rockefeller Republicans in the 1970s were a far cry from the right wing zealots we see in both the Legislature and the Congress today.

It doesn’t take political genius to understand that New York is getting bluer and bluer. The Republicans in the state Senate are an endangered species. The only reason they remain in power is that they were able to pick off four Democrats who they paid off handsomely with committee and leadership assignments. Cuomo can pull the plug on the Republican majority anytime he wants. He has reaped what he sowed. He kept Skelos and his Republicans in power and the consequences are now plain.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/10/13

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