It has been one year since State Senator John Sampson became Conference Leader through a negotiated settlement from last summer’s attempted coup. Representing the 19th Senatorial District for 13 years, Sampson has been a pivotal agent during the transition from Republican to Democratic control. Under his leadership, the Senate has instituted long-awaited reforms and recently finalized settlement of a $136 billion budget.
Sampson has seen the days when “special interests were put ahead of the people’s interest ” under the Republican majority. During the 44 years of Republican control, “They taxed, borrowed and eliminated job growth throughout the state of New York,” Sampson said. “This was during prosperous times.” The disparity and lack of equity was stark: “In the last 10 years, the Republicans received about one billion dollars in capital. We received absolutely nothing. This impacts capitol construction, capital movement, but most important, bricks and mortars, more in their districts than in our communities. Capital dollars make jobs,” he said.
Under Sampson’s leadership, the Senate crafted ethics reform legislation. “What is mind-boggling is that all of a sudden Republicans have become (new reform) advocates,” Senator Sampson said. “But when they were in control, they did not want to push ethics reform at all. All of a sudden they got an epiphany when they are in the minority, now they have to push for ethics reform because of what happened to Joe Bruno.” He asked, “How can you credit a group of individuals who suppressed anything to do with ethics reform while they were in control of the chamber for the last 44 years?”
The Senate pushed one of the strongest ethics bills in years through the NYS Senate, which passed. The governor vetoed. “When we had the opportunity to override it, Senate Democrats voted in favor. We needed 10 Republicans. Not one Republican voted in favor of overriding the governor’s veto dealing with ethics reform,” said Sampson. He admits it was a first step towards ethics reform. Looking at the political landscape, Sampson sees pockets of cynicism. “All of a sudden when former mayor Ed Koch is advocating changing the rules and promoting this whole ethics reform issue, all of a sudden Republicans sign onto a pledge. It is one thing to sign onto a pledge, it is another thing to make sure that you support legislation that encompasses everything in that pledge. Don’t judge someone based upon rhetoric, judge someone based upon results,” he said. “If you look at the prior behavior in the past, and the most recent behavior of the Senate Republicans, it shows you they are not interested in ethics reform at all.”
Sampson said he respects former Mayor Koch “and I applaud him for what he is trying to do. We have been trying to do the same things by trying to pass one of the most strict ethics reform bills that has come out of the NYS Senate.” Referring to Koch’s NY Uprising reform proposals, Senator Sampson said, “I would love to work with former mayor Koch, because some of the issues he is supporting I am truly in support of.”
But the state senator has reservations. “I have no problem with an independent commission, but we have to look at this,” Sampson said. If we are asking an independent commission to do redistricting, “these are unelected individuals who are bureaucrats who are going to make these decisions,” Sampson explained. “One of the reasons we are elected by the people is to make such decisions. The question is are we violating our accountability to the voters? They put us in the position to make those decisions.”
Sampson knows he “can be fair and accountable when it comes to [district] dividing lines. But my issue is, the Republicans who signed onto [the NY Uprising pledge], they had an opportunity for the last 44 years – four decades – to do reapportionment. They could have been equitable in the way they have drawn lines. But they tend to gerrymander in order for them to stay in power. But all of a sudden, everybody gets an epiphany that now we have to change the rules. Because the Democrats are in control. I think we can be fair, we can be objective, but most of all, we will be accountable to the people of the state of NY to draw lines in accordance to the people to be represented.”
“Tremendous” is how Senator Sampson characterizes the impact of changing how prison inmates are counted. “Now they can no longer use those individuals with respect to reapportionment. They have to allocate those bodies to the districts where they came from,” he said.
According to the senator, upstate regions are not being ignored with the change. “The Senate Democrats are about equity and creating job development and opportunities,” a sharp departure from when the Republicans were in control, and there was a mass exodus from upstate NY of business interests. “They don’t want to talk about those things,” Sampson said. “We are bringing business to upstate NY. We brought in automotive manufacturing. We are assisting chocolate manufacturing in Senator Aubertine’s district in upstate NY.” Sampson’s firm declaration: “We are bringing business to the state of NY. We are locating them upstate so they do not have to rely on a prison to create economic development. Real manufacturing jobs to create development. Making sure we have those capital dollars to invest in infrastructure – roads and bridges – to create economic development. That’s what our conference is all about. We want to give the people of upstate a viable opportunity to earn.”
Demonstrating his commitment to the whole state, Sampson offered committee chairmanships to three senators; two out of the three accepted. “The Republicans, in their 44 years, only did that once to a Senate Democrat,” he said. “In our first year in the majority, we felt it was imperative to extend our hands to our colleagues on the other side of the a isle and offer them chairmanships. This is not about partisanship anymore. In this economic climate, we have to work in a bipartisan atmosphere.”
On Tuesday, President Obama signed a $26 billion jobs bill. Senator Sampson will be back in Albany next week to oversee allocation of New York State’s share.