In a rare show of political harmony, everyone agrees that the most recent session of the New York State Legislature was not very productive. Most accounts of the final weeks were a chronicle of stalemate and chaos. When legislators finally left for home, they left several important issues unresolved.
The reason is familiar. For decades now the Legislature has been divided into a Democratic-controlled Assembly and a Republican-controlled Senate. The Assembly passes bills that Democrats support, the Senate passes bills that Republicans support. When one really wants a particular bill to pass, the leaders meet and trade. They agree to support, or at least not block, something that they don’t mind too much in return for the same consideration on the other side.
But this session that system broke down because the Senate Republicans no longer had the majority they needed to pass much of anything. In the final weeks they had 32 votes to the 31 for the Democrats but one Republican senator was away on military duty, leaving the body tied at 31-31. In theory, the lieutenant governor could break any tie, but because she is a Democrat, Republicans used parliamentary maneuvers to avoid votes on anything significant.
The Democratic majority in the Assembly is not going to change in this election year because the margin is large and the political landscape is securely in their favor. So when New Yorkers vote for legislators in November, they have to carefully consider candidates for the state Senate, keeping two things in mind.
If voters generally like the priorities of New York Republicans, they should make sure that that party gets a clear majority in the Senate so the Legislature can return to its party-boss-controlled way of life. It’s not democratic with a small d. It’s not bipartisan. It’s a breeding ground for corruption. But it’s the way the Legislature has operated for decades and it has, despite its imperfections, yielded some impressive results.
If they want to break this mold, however, they should vote for state Senate candidates of either party who have shown a willingness to work with the other party and, most important, to resist the marching orders that come from the party hierarchy.
Imagine how refreshing it would be to see an important issue receiving support from members of both parties from all parts of the state, to watch the vote to see how many combined Republicans and Democrats can be gathered to pass legislation instead of looking on in despair as party bosses let bills die in committee and prevent real debate.
So as state Senate candidates ask for your vote, ask them if they can or will or ever have worked with members of the other party. Only by electing people who can or will or have will the Legislature evolve.
And be wary of promises, especially ones that portray an opposition party as the big spenders and that guarantee more affordable days ahead.
New York is a very expensive place to live. It got what way because Republican leaders in the Senate agreed with Democratic leaders in the Assembly to make it expensive.