The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Monday, July 26, 2004

NEW YORK STATE POLITICS, SUCH AS THEY ARE: The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University has just released a report on the New York State Legislature, one of the more, if not the most, dysfunctional legislative body in the United States. The press release, which contains a link to the report (you will need Acrobat Reader to read it) has a series of suggestions for the revamping and reform of the state legislature. They are, in the main, excellent suggestions and would, if enacted, greatly enhance the practice of constitutional democracy here in the Empire State. None of these excellent suggestions, however, will ever be adopted by anyone at any time in Albany, especially anyone in the leadership, and I will venture to say that this report will share space in the legislators' personal libraries with the collected works of Dave Barry, only they'll think that Dave's not as funny as the guys who wrote this report.

For those of you not from New York, let me explain how things work here. First, there is the Governor, who at this time is George Pataki, a Republican from Peekskill, which is in Westchester County, in the New York City suburbs in the lower Hudson Valley. Then there is the Majority Leader of the State Senate, Joseph Bruno, who is a Republican from Saratoga Springs, which is to the north of Albany, where most of the voters are trees, and finally, there is the Speaker of the State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, a Democrat from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which I am sure I don't have to tell you, is in New York City. These three guys decide everything there is to decide in New York and if they disagree with one another, which is usually the case, absolutely nothing gets done.

Now, since state legislatures must apportion seats according to population, the State Senate is almost always controlled by upstate Republicans, the Assembly almost always controlled by downstate Democrats; the office of governor is up for grabs since that office is voted by everyone in the state; the pols couldn't find a way around that, but I'm sure given enough time and energy they will. There are more state senators than Joe Bruno, of course, and a lot more assemblymen than Shelly Silver, but let's face facts, folks, they don't count. They are there just for show.  You could ship department store dummies up to the state capitol building in Albany and no one would know the difference (by the way, the New York State Capitol is one of the most beautiful in the nation. If you're ever in Albany you might want to see it; there's been major restoration done on the building).  They especially don't count if they are the wrong party in the wrong house; there are few things more utterly pointless than a Republican assemblyman or a Democratic state senator. These people are, whatever their individual good qualities may be, the political equivalent of the appendix. What's more, senate and assembly districts are drawn up by, you guessed it, by the leadership of the Senate and the Assembly, who make absolutely sure that nothing is done to challenge the status quo. In New York, strange as this may seem elsewhere, incumbent politicians regard re-election as one of their civil rights and the election laws are arranged in such a way that no politician will ever be challenged by anyone, anywhere, at any time. This may be one of the reasons that New York State has not passed a budget on time in twenty years and why the usual question around budget time in Albany is not whether the budget will be passed on time but rather how late it will be this year.

Frankly, I am looking forward to the day when the New York State budget for a given fiscal year gets hung up until the next fiscal year. I hear you laughing out there, but if you knew what politics are like here, you'd know that this is entirely within the realm of possibility.  What is not within the realm of possibility is that any of the Brennan Center's recommendations will ever be implemented by the leadership of the state legislature; these guys will hardly sponsor their own political emasculation.  Trust me on this one.



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