Most voting-age New Yorkers, regardless of their politics, can identify with Sanctimony and his cousins Self-righteousness, Pomposity, and Hypocrisy. Sadly, we can do this because we’re so darn familiar with all of them coming to visit us from Albany, our capital and the home of America’s most dysfunctional state legislature. The Brennan Center report has been updated since it was originally issued in 2004, but sadly the performance of our Legislature has not. To wit, we have this week’s antics.
On Monday, two ethically challenged Democrats joined with the Republican minority to seize the State Senate and craft what’s being referred to as a bipartisan coalition. One of them is under investigation for campaign finance issues, possible misuse of taxpayer money, and he may not even live in the district he represents. There are additional issues with his proposed ‘member items’ and the fact that they were not approved by the party leadership, making him ripe for jumping to the other side. The other allegedly slashed his girlfriend’s face in an argument (although she says it was an accident). The fact that the two Dems were previously objects of derision by their new-found Republican friends (some even called for their resignation) apparently doesn’t matter when the value proposition is based on ‘what’s good for me must be good for New York’.
Another key player in the coup was the billionaire Thomas Golisano. Noted for his many significant charitable contributions as well as his unsuccessful political career, Golisano recently announced he was moving to Florida to save almost $14,000 a day in taxes. As a former New Yorker (and long-time backer of reform) he was frustrated with the lack of action on the part of the Dems he supported, as well as apparently miffed by a Crackberry in the hands of the Majority leader.
A non-player in all of this is our Accidental Governor, who has no choice but to sit back and hope that all of the dust settles, and quickly, so that the ctirical business of New York State can continue. He’ll be staying put in Albany until this all gets straightened out, since one result of the coup is a new lack of clarity around succession. Normally it would be the lieutenant governor, but he's currently the Governor because of the whole Client #9 mess. Next in line would be the president of the Senate, but now we don't know for sure who that is. Hope the Gov didn't have plans for the weekend.
So, with all of this nonsense, why do I think this value proposition is sanctimony? Let me count the ways.
- The Republicans had control of the Senate for decades and failed to introduce any meaningful reform; the chances that they will do so now, and the emphasis is on meaningful reform, is slim given that it’s basically the same cast of incumbents, including our local Senator for Life who had the honor of swearing in part of the new leadership.
- The new rules they released are hardly as bipartisan as they pretend, and hardly as fair as they pretend. For example, just about everything in the rules that refers to the minority party indicates that it will be ‘no less than 33%’. I think I saw only one mention stating anything about proportional distribution based on representation. Wouldn’t it have been nice to see something like 50-50? 51-49? Even 60-40? We’ve clearly seen that ‘majority rules’, regardless of party, doesn’t work for us; it controls (and by nature limits) debate, it discourages consensus, and it promotes retaliation against the dissenters. Just ask Mike Bragman.
- They are professing that this coup is also about Latino empowerment, because of the ethnic background of the rogues. Sadly, I believe that’s merely a convenient accident, rather than a goal, of this new coalition. Two possibly indictable goofballs do not an empowered movement make. Latinos must demand better. We all should demand better.
- While they do look to install term limits on the leadership and committee positions, there’s no mention of term limits as a whole. So, it looks like a coalition member can chair one committee for eight years – then chair another committee for eight years, and so on. Not seeing this as real reform; seems more like shuffling (and stacking) the deck – in other words, more of the same.
- There’s been a complete lack of sincerity coming out of any of the players in the time since the coup; rather, it’s been a gloating, gleeful, chest-thumping noise that detracts from the professed goals.
Do I hope that eventually, somehow, we manage to get off the top of the Brennan Center list? Sure – all New Yorkers do. Would I express the same opinions if the shoe was on the other foot, and the Dems had coerced a couple of rogue Republicans to play Red Rover? Sure – because I doubt the sincerity of any of them.
I have a friend who uses the phrase ‘noodling around’ to describe the process of digging around, determining magnitude or root cause, or just doing some thinking on something. I don’t pretend for a minute that I have the intellectual wherewithal to figure this mess out – but I do have time, while we wait for the coalition to coalesce, to do some noodling around on some of the comments that have been coming out of Albany in the past couple of days. Next up: New Mexico…