The weird keeps getting weirder. Now that Hiram Monserrate has announced his intention to return to the Democrats, the split between Republicans and Democrats would be 31-31. No session can take place and no bill can pass without 32 votes being present and voting “aye.” But some good could come of all the nonsense in Albany. It could actually force the Senate to become a truly bipartisan body. The Republicans, you will remember, have for three decades kept the minority Democrats on a tight leash, not allowing them to pass bills and not giving every Senator the same amount of pork to bring home to their districts. The majority party got more staff and bigger and better offices.
The Democrats (for a change) have blown a golden opportunity, since Malcolm Smith has proven himself to be an inept leader. He had the opportunity to pass ethics and procedural reform, but decided instead to do unto Republicans what they had done unto Democrats. Even those in his own conference who did not meet his expectations of loyalty were punished. He had the added bonus of having some really despicable soldiers in his army, including the aforementioned Monserrate, the indicted alleged slasher of his girlfriend’s face, and one Pedro Espada, who seems to be so in it for himself that good government and good policy making are taking the farthest pew back in the church of ethics reform. To add insult to injury, Espada has been made the president pro tem of the Senate. This means that God forbid, should anything happen to David Paterson, Espada, one of the top miscreants in the game, would actually become the governor.
New York Democrats’ problem is that they have a major reapportionment coming up, and if the Republicans are able to redistrict in an incomprehensively unfair fashion once again, democracy will be set back. The Republicans should know that if they don’t pass ethics reform now, they will join their Republican colleagues in the Assembly as an endangered species. Now is the time for everyone in the Senate to get together and make some much needed changes.
Here’s what they might look like: every Senator gets the same amount of goodies to give out in their districts. Every Senator gets the same office space and staff. The redistricting process is given over to a third party who will fairly draw what approximates compact and contiguous districts.
So if we actually end up with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans sharing power in the State Senate, who would break the tie? If we had one, it would be the lieutenant governor. Now Espada says that he gets two votes—one as a Senator and one as the acting lieutenant governor. That would be a travesty. Nobody gets two votes. Some have argued that Paterson, who was the lieutenant governor before he succeeded to the governorship, has as much right to vote as both the governor and the lieutenant governor as Espada does.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, the now indicted former Republican Majority Leader Joe Bruno has had a change of heart and is arguing for the right of gay people to marry. Some see this as a blatant attempt to pull openly gay Senator Tom Duane over the line to become a Republican. If that is the case, it won’t work. Duane is too good a man to let that happen.
New York politics gets stranger and stranger, and while part of me hates to say so, I’m having the time of my life. I actually see the possibility of something good coming out of this.
Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.
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