Welcome (back) to the New York State Senate -- the Home of Teh Crazy
In all its glory, the NYS Senate -- Home of Teh Crazy
Earlier today Howie asked if there was anything I might care to explain about the latest weirdnesses coming out of the New York State Senate, an institution I like to think of as the Home of Teh Crazy.
What he thought might bear explaining was what appearas to be a joint press release posted to the New York State Senate official website, presumably as a joint offering of the Senate Republican Conference, led by Dean Skelos, and what now purports to be an officially recognized new party conference, the five-member (just today increased from four with the addition of Malcolm Smith of Queens, the ever-so-brief leader of the Dems' ever-so-brief majority following the 2008 election) Independent Democratic Conference.
To be clear about two points:
Independent Democratic Conference, Senate Republicans Announce Creation of Historic Bipartisan PartnershipPosted on Tuesday, December 4th, 2012
RELATED ISSUES: Government Operations
Senator Dean G. Skelos, leader of the Senate Republican Conference, and Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, today joined together to announce an historic bipartisan partnership to continue the tremendous progress that has been achieved over the past two years in New York State.
This new bipartisan governing coalition guarantees a fiscally responsible, fully functional Senate that will continue to produce positive results for all New Yorkers.
Two years ago, Independent Democrats and Senate Republicans put partisan differences aside to end the dysfunction, gridlock and reckless fiscal policies of the previous Senate leadership. This partnership returned function and order to the Senate Chamber, restored fiscal integrity, and produced remarkable accomplishments that have benefited all New Yorkers.
Today’s agreement marks a bold new chapter in this partnership, that will allow the Senate to continue pushing New York State forward, while ensuring that there will be no returning to the failed leadership of the past.
Of tremendous importance is the bipartisan coalition government’s commitment to working with Governor Cuomo on progressive policy issues that benefit all New Yorkers in the next legislative session. . . .
(1) Even with two 2012 Senate races apparently still undetermined, the Democrats should have had enough seats to constitute a majority. But it was clear that this was most unlikely to happen, because already five nominally Democratic votes were unlikely to be available for a Senate Democratic majority. Extreme-right-wing Sen. Simcha Felder, elected as a Democrat in Brooklyn, had already announced his intention to caucus with the Republicans. And the four members of the Independent Democratic Conference gave every indication of doing the same. Which leads us to the other clarification --
(2) The IDC isn't new. It came into being in 2010, originally as a four-member splinter group, in the aftermath of the Democrats' disastrous last attempt at taking control of the State Senate, when the party appeared to have won enough seats to do so. That assumed, however, that everyone elected as a Democrat would in fact vote with fellow Democrats to organize the Senate. But an odd little fringe assemblage of rogues and clowns declined to do so, organizing instead -- despite state Dems' furious attempts to bribe them back into line -- with the Republicans. Eventually the Dems managed to swing the count ever so slightly back in their favor, but by then it was alarmingly clear that no one was in charge, and the people who were trying to pull strings had agendas that, to put it mildly, didn't inspire a great deal of party loyalty.
What happened then, as the New York Observer's David Freedlander wrote back in January 2012 in a piece called "Can The Senate Dems Regain Their Squandered Majority?":
[L]ess than two weeks before the 2010 election that would determine if Democrats would get to keep their cushy new majority chambers, the state’s Inspector General released a bombshell report detailing how John Sampson, the Senate Majority Leader, rigged the bidding for a favored casino operator to run the slots at a new racing track in Queens, including leaking information about the other bidders and attending a “victory party” at the home of a popular lobbyist once they had properly secured casino operators the winning bid.As the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, Jeffrey Klein (who represents a Bronx-Westchester district), is quoted as saying in today's Republican-IDC statement:
In the elections a few days later, demographic trends accounted for very little, and Democrats were swept out of office.
Over the past two years, members of the IDC and Senate Republicans have shown that the best way to overcome New York’s biggest challenges is by working in a constructive, bipartisan way. Legislating is a deliberative, cooperative process—not a spectator sport. Having dedicated the past two years to a serious, policy-driven agenda, this agreement delivers on the IDC’s pledge to become a permanent third conference within the State Senate and to have a major voice in all policy decisions moving forward. Having worked together over the past two years, I know that Senator Skelos is not only an effective leader, but is as committed as I am to delivering major bipartisan results for all New Yorkers.The statement then intersperses comments on today's history-making develoments from the other three original IDC members -- Diane Savino (Staten Island-Brooklyn), David Valesky (Oneida), and David Carlucci (Rockland) -- with comments from Senate Republicans. Here, for example, is that of Senator Savino (whose Wikipedia stub entry, by the way, says, "Savino's boyfriend is fellow independent Democratic state senator Jeffrey Klein"):
Two years ago, we realized that in order to serve our constituents effectively, we needed to take the politics out of policymaking. That’s what we’ve done since forming the IDC and that’s what we’ll continue to do as part of the new coalition government. Our constituents, particularly mine, cannot afford the type of political gamesmanship that has, in the past, overrun a healthy and functioning legislature. We’re here to accomplish the people’s business and that’s why we’ve formed this historic bipartisan coalition.Clearly, the statements by Republicans heralding this dawn of a magical new day in NYS politics are hokum. They reduce to: "We're still gonna be in the majority, hooray!" More curious is the wonderment of the IDC cohorts. Unlike the crazies of the 2008-09 Gang of Two/Three/Four, these are fairly respectable people. True, as a member of this new governing "coalition," the IDC-ers will have infinitely more clout than the not quite 30 other Dems (according to the announcement, Senators Skelos and Klein will alternate as "Temporary President" of the Senate, and presumably committee assignments will be generous to the IDC "majority coallition" members), and arguably more clout than the not quite 30 Republicans.
What's going on here? Let's go back to that January Observer piece by David Freedlander. After tracing the history of the Senate Democrats' decades-long permanent minority status, in which Democratic leadership of the State Assembly and the Republican leadership of the State Senate colluded each time their chambers had to be districted to ensure their continuing majorities, Freedlander wrote:
[A]t last, in 2008, buoyed by Barack Obama, the Democrats won enough seats to have a majority in the chamber. Shangri-La at last! The Republicans were on the run! Democrats controlled every lever of power for the first time in the State since the New Deal, and veritable political paradise was sure to follow."And," Freedlander wrote, "the policy decisions were the least of it."
The Democratic conference was still dominated by liberal and minority members, but they had taken control of the chamber by winning in longtime GOP strongholds on the suburbs of Long Island and even in rural hamlets in the North County and western New York.
On the first day they were in the majority, in a closed-door meeting, Brian Foley, a freshman lawmaker from Long Island in a seat long held by the GOP, told his new colleagues that he was thrilled to be a part of the team, and was looking forward to doing something about skyrocketing property taxes.
He was told he was in the wrong room. The Democrats are not the party that cares about property taxes. If you pay property taxes, you are rich, his new colleagues told him, according to people who witnessed the exchange. We are the party of renters. Mr. Foley said no more.
And so it went for the newly elected Senate majority. They instituted an MTA payroll tax and a millionaire’s tax, both of which angered suburban swing voters. Instead of lavishing resources on the upstate counties their newly elected lawmakers represented, they devoted attention to their base in the city.
On more than a few occasions, senators nearly came to fisticuffs behind closed doors. Legislative sessions supposed to start in the midafternoon didn’t get going until early evening and lasted late into the night. Two senators abruptly decided they were now Republicans; they were eventually lured back with the promise of leadership posts. A campaign season promise to reform the redistricting process that had kept the Democrats in the minority for more than half a century was forgotten when Democrats realized that if they could just hold on through one more election, they would be the ones drawing the lines, and they could at last send the GOP, in one lawmaker’s phrase, “into oblivion.”What this may all come down to is that nobody trusts the stability or workings of whatever sort of Senate Democratic majority might emerge -- not Democrats like the IDC members, and not Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The governor, it should be noted, has never lifted a finger to bring about a working Senate Democratic majority. He seemed quite happy in the early years of his term as governor to work with a Republican-controlled Senate, very likely preferring that to facing Democratic control in both houses of the Legislature. He may be even happier about the idea of the new Senate power-sharing arrangement, wherein there is no full-time Senate President, and Senate Republicans can't do anything without Democratic participation.
I don't claim to be privy to the latest, er, thinking on the revolution in Albany. All afternoon and evening I was hoping for some of the Smarter People to weigh in. When they do, if they have anything to add, I'll let you know.