Albany’s behavior is an insult to democracy

Will we ever have change in New York? I’m talking about substantive change that is not cosmetic but a return to real democracy where the citizen actually stands a chance. It’s enough to make anyone cynical. We disgracefully allow the majority party in each house of the Legislature to draw their own districts. When Andrew Cuomo became governor he promised that he would try to put an end to that. Instead, he and the Legislature got together and developed a plan to end the gerrymander in ten years. What an insult to democracy. By that time, the governor and most of the members of this Legislature will be long gone. The message seems to be, “Let someone else figure it out, it won’t be on our watch.” Let’s face it — when that sort of nonsense happens abroad our politicians attack it as an insult to democracy. It’s enough to make you pull your hair out.

It doesn’t stop there. The governor and the Legislature would have us believe that they are serious about ending traditional corruption so they set up not one but two separate anti-corruption mechanisms in state government, neither of which has done much to change things. Every once in a while some dumbbell legislator does something that is hands on sexually inappropriate and he gets clobbered because the public ire is raised. But almost nothing is done about the fee for service (“I’ll give you campaign money if you do me favors”) system that we see in New York. The governor, who has well over $30 million in his campaign account, is calling for a public financing system of matching money that will allow common citizens and not just incumbents to run for office. Even if you could get that kind of system on line, what would happen to the governor’s money? Let’s remember that people like Michael Bloomberg and others regularly opt out of the system and don’t take the New York City matching money if they have enough.

So we sit and watch the breakdown of whatever democracy we have left. The Republicans have fewer members in the state Senate than the Democrats but still they stay in power. As soon as the Republicans seduce a Democrat to come over the line they give him or her choice committee assignments with tremendous power to haul in campaign dollars from the industries and groups that those committees oversee.

I keep telling the governor and his people that if Democrat Cuomo wanted to put a stop to that shameful situation, he could use his bully pulpit to do so. The Cuomo people claim that they don’t have that kind of power. That, from a governor who got a gun bill through a bunch of upstate legislators who would rather cut off their arms than pass a piece of legislation that could put the kibosh on their re-election. One of the main reasons why people say they will vote for Cuomo is that, “…he gets things done.” That’s right, he can, he does, and he will. So when we hear that he and the Legislature have come together to pass some joke of a bill that appears to address a pressing issue but in reality does no such thing, we have to assume that the political players think most New Yorkers are too dumb to get the difference.

Are the cynical politicians correct? Yes, I’m afraid they are. There may be a few good government groups (“goo-goos”) out there trying to raise the alarm but as people don’t pay attention they will be lulled into thinking that the stench from Albany is no more than they can expect.

As we look at places like Ukraine and see people laying down their lives so that they can choose their government, I get angrier and angrier at all of this.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 3/3/14

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