Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
How, you may be asking yourself, did things ever come to such an ignoble pass here in what used to be the most important state of all the states comprising this our Great Republic? This is an excellent question, filled with chills, spills, and adventure enough for the entire family, and one for which most of here don’t have a damn clue. I shall, however, attempt to provide some insights into the matter, as my not having a clue has never stopped me from having an opinion before and I see no reason why it should stop me now.
For many years now, for decades, in fact, the two major political parties have shared power in the state legislature: malfeasant Democratic peculators dominated the lower house, the Assembly, whilst grafting Republican boodlers ran the upper house, the Senate. The governor, of course, could be of either political persuasion; no one much cared what party he belonged to so long as the gravy train ran on time and everyone could go back for seconds, thirds, or as many ordinal numbers as they felt they could handle without a grand jury noticing. This bicameral arrangement of official goniffdom reflects the political geography of the Vampire State. The Democrats’ control of the big cities has given them the majority in the Assembly ever since Grover Cleveland hung his first villain, but as you venture away from the metropolis and the various micropoli along the river, the political naïf wanders into that strange land known as Upstate, where even the mice are Republicans, a situation that leads to the GOP’s control of the Senate. And so we all lived in a state of happy dysfunction for ages and ages. The state’s three men in a room was complete: the governor, the Senate majority leader, and the speaker of the Assembly ran the state while the members of the two houses voted the way their leadership told them to vote in exchange for the right to loot the public treasury on a regular basis. Only the bills the speaker and the majority leader wanted to pass ever came up for a vote and all a state legislator needed to do was vote yes. In the Assembly, the leadership brought this process to its logical conclusion: all assemblymen voted yes on every bill unless they were physically present to vote no. Since their actual presence was unnecessary, if not downright distracting to the Assembly staff, assemblymen could spend their time in more worthwhile pursuits, such as learning to play badminton or operating auto repair shops on the side while they waited the next election cycle. In 2006, however, this happy state of affairs came to an abrupt end. The Democrats, for reasons best known to the voters of the state, took a two-seat majority in the Senate. This means that all three men in the metaphorical room are Democrats, a state of affairs that hasn’t existed for a while here, and what’s worse, it means that all three men in the room are from…THE CITY!
It would be difficult, at best, to describe the depth of the loathing that many Upstaters have for The City and no upstate politician has ever lost votes denouncing The City as a prodigal Sodom and Gomorrah that wastes the money hard-working Upstaters earn on fiscal fripperies. Some Upstaters, lost in the fever swamps of their loathing for all things concerning The City, have even been known to voice a favorable, if sotto voce, opinion of the Boston Red Sox on occasion, as difficult as you may find that to believe.
In any case, since the beginning of the year the state capitol has resounded with the disconsolate cries of Republicans bewailing their lost power and influence, and the shrieks of paranoid Upstaters convinced that The City and all of its minions were going to spend the state into bankruptcy and not share the graft while they did so. What to do, what to do, has been the plaintive wail from the state legislature for the past few months, a cry that is now, frankly, annoying in the extreme and makes us, the inhabitants of this fun dystopia, want to smack these guys across the face a couple of times and tell them to pull themselves together, for crying out loud. And then, it happened.
No one is sure why it happened; the astrologically inclined say that Jupiter and the moon were in the right alignment, while a good many Marxists say that this affair was the product of a classic rift in the ruling classes, or they would if there were a good many Marxists around still calling themselves Marxists, and then there are the cynics, a plentiful tribe here in the Vampire State, who know that the whole thing was little more than a case of thieves falling out. What did happen, in whatever manner you choose to describe the reasons, was that two Democratic state senators, one a man with residency issues—he apparently doesn’t live in the district that he represents—and the other a man accused of allegedly beating his girl friend, announced that henceforth they would be voting with the Republicans, thereby giving the Republicans control of the state Senate, in response to which event the Democrats closed the Senate chamber down and hid the keys so the Republicans couldn’t get inside (this, strictly speaking, is illegal, but what’s a little illegality between friends?). The Democrats threatened to sue, declaring the coup illegal, and the Republicans threatened to counter-sue, demanding the recognition of the new majority and the legislative session continue. And so the nastiness continued unabated for weeks at a time, the crisis only solvable in either one of two ways—the rebels either stayed with the GOP or returned to the Democratic fold—but this being the Vampire State, where deviousness and rank stupidity form the basis of our political culture, our dogged crew of solons found a third way to solve the problem, which, of course, did not solve the problem and only made things worse than they already were, if you can imagine such a thing. I know I couldn’t, but then, I lack imaginative facility.
Now, the Democrats did not submit meekly to the will of the new majority, but then you already knew that, didn’t you? No indeed, the Democrats has waited for decades for Senatorial perks, privileges, and pelf, and they were not going back to the bad old minoritarian days without a fight. They went after their two Judases, promising them the entire world right up to the state line if only they would return home. After a couple of weeks of this, one of the senators, the one with the residency problem, announced that he would return to the Democrats forthwith, the better to figure out just where he was coming from; the other distinguished gentleman, on the other hand, refused to return, leaving the Senate in deadlock, with each party having 31 votes.
In ordinary times, this would not pose any sort of a problem. In such cases, the state’s lieutenant governor would cast the tie-breaking vote and ensure one party’s misrule over the other’s. These, however, are not ordinary times hereabouts. The Vampire State is, at this juncture, singularly lacking a lieutenant governor. As you may recall, the Federal authorities found the previous governor of this state with his socks on and his pants off in a hotel room discussing civil service reform with a young woman hired for the occasion. The first instance of said reform being the previous governor’s resignation, the then lieutenant governor became the governor, leaving his previous sinecure unoccupied. Unlike the Federal constitution, which goes into great detail about the hows and whys of presidential succession, the state constitution makes no provision for electing, appointing, or looking through the want ads for a new lieutenant governor, or, at least, this is what the Attorney General of the state says, a man who is himself angling to replace the current governor just as soon as the next election cycle comes rolling around. Why he wants to be governor is anybody’s guess; it is certainly beyond my poor powers of comprehension.
And so it went for almost a month. The governor, understandably upset that no one was going about the state business of spending money faster than a full keg disappears at a frat party, threatened to call a special session of the legislature and to keep everyone in the capital through the summer months and to dock the senators’ paychecks until both sides ended the stalemate, but neither threat worked. Modern air conditioning plants have made the capital a barely tolerable place, even in the summer, and I am fairly certain that the good senators have other sources of income available to them, he said with a completely straight face.
In the end, all good things must come to an end, and the senatorial stasis was no exception to the rule. Our alleged girl friend beating senator went to the mountaintop and communed with the spirit of Andrew Jackson, and then in a blaze of remorse and publicity returned to the Party of the People. That his confreres immediately raised their prodigal son to the dignity of deputy majority leader caused some cynics, including the governor, no less, to conclude that the whole affair reeked of illegality and quid pro quo, a charge the Democratic leadership angrily denied. The governor’s response was curious, though; after a lifetime spent in the noisome pit of illegality and quid pro quo that constitutes the political life of this state, you think he’d have gotten used to the reek by now. The rest of us have, unfortunately.