If you think that there is something different about this year’s contests for the state Senate, you are right in many ways.

While the Assembly remains a creature of traditional party power politics, the Senate is in play. The year ended with Republicans and Democrats tied at 31 votes apiece. One GOP senator, the one who had given his party a one-vote majority, was away on active duty in the Navy. One senator elected as a Democrat regularly caucuses and votes with Republicans, giving him the power to move or block important pieces of legislation.

A rogue group of Democrats had caucused with Republicans in return for the ability to get some items on their agenda supported in usually unfriendly territory along with lucrative bonus payments in addition to their lucrative base pay as well as millions of dollars to take back to their districts in the age-old Albany tradition of buying votes with taxpayer money yet still remaining opposed to calls for true public funding of campaigns. Those defectors have returned to the fold.

All of that sets the stage for this year’s election and in our region two other developments have contributed to the transformation of what used to be sleepy lessons in the power of incumbency.

Two veteran Republicans, Bill Larkin and John Bonacic, retired after long Albany careers. Both were at an age when that made sense and both left with long legacies. In recent elections, they had faced either no opposition or no opposition that they had to take seriously. But their dual departure leaves two open seats sought by several candidates in both major parties running campaigns that reflect the opportunity to control the Senate and the heightened awareness of the importance of state government.

As people grow more concerned about the chaos in the White House and the gridlock in Congress, they realize that it really matters who represents them in the state Senate. More than ever, state government will be the last line of defense for many crucial issues that affect our daily lives.

Four women running for the Senate, including Jen Metzger of Rosendale who is seeking to replace Bonacic, have issued several joint press releases criticizing the way the Republican majority voted on women’s issues. They condemned Senate Republicans for, among other things, blocking votes on the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act and the Reproductive Health Act which they said were “essential legislation to protect the health and rights of New York women.”

In the race for Larkin’s seat, Democrat James Skoufis and Republican Mike Anagnostakis have raised several substantive issues. And just last week, in the wake of the fatal shooting at a newsroom in Maryland, Anagnostakis issued another challenge:

“For the overall public safety, common sense legislation must prevail over special interest donations and extremist views. The Senate in Albany has failed the people again -- it borders on criminal that smart, reasonable, safety legislation that helps prevent dangerous individuals from accessing guns has not been enacted.”

His list of bills supported by Senate Democrats and blocked by Senate Republicans gives voters yet another chance to see what is at stake this year.