The NY Senate Independent Democrats Conference (IDC) announced they are partnering with Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Senate Republicans to form a new coalition government. The coalition – which includes the four original members who came together in 2010: Jeff Klein, Diane Savino, David Carlucci, and David Valesky, and new member Malcolm Smith – is widely seen as an attempt to keep the duly-elected Democratic majority from taking control of the Senate. NY Senate Democrats waged campaigns on progressive issues and gained at least 5 seats. Democrats now hold 31 seats to Republican 30. Two seats are pending in court.
The IDC and the GOP will split the title of Senate President Pro Tempore, alternating every two weeks. The coalition seeks to make the IDC a permanent, third Senate conference. As leaders of their respective conferences, Skelos and Klein would have equal authority over the daily senate agenda, the senate budget, appointments to state and local boards and leadership and committee assignments for their respective conferences.
Simcha Felder, who was elected as a Democrat representing the new super-Jewish Brooklyn district, promptly announced he would conference with Senate Republicans and joined their unanimous vote this week to re-elect Dean Skelos as head of the GOP conference.
In response to the announcement, Governor Cuomo penned an op-ed in which he stated, “From 1996 to 2009, the Republican Conference led for 42 years and blocked much progressive legislation, including last year’s efforts to increase the minimum wage, enact campaign finance reform, and end the controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy.” The governor wrote that the Democratic Conference “squandered the opportunity” during their two years in power, and “failed to pass any meaningful reform legislation despite repeated promises.” Cuomo added that his “opinion will be based on how those senators function as a leadership group and perform on the important issues for the people of the state.”
Cuomo could issue an opinion based upon past performance. The governor’s stated agenda includes an increase in minimum wage, but in May the Assembly passed an increase from $7.25 to $8.50 (A9148). Ironically, Klein sponsored the bill in the Senate, where it is blocked under Skelos.
Cuomo had campaigned on promises of an independent redistricting process, but caved when presented with the GOP Senate’s partisan lines.
Term-limited Queens Councilman James Sanders was drawn out of Malcolm Smith’s district, transferring the threat of a Sanders challenge from Smith to Huntley, who Sanders defeated in the primary. Smith first came to office in a special election on the Democratic, Republican, Conservative and Working Families ballot lines. No stranger to coups, during his first term Smith joined a coup led by then Senator David Paterson against Martin Conner who was Democratic Leader at the time. Smith has expressed interest in running for mayor on the Republican line, but he lacks $100 million of his own to spend as Bloomberg did during the last mayoral race. In a campaign to run for his Senate seat in two years, Smith will have to explain himself to his district’s constituents, who are 75% Democratic, particularly Caribbean.
Sen. Eric Adams issued several suggestions for the new coalition to prove its so-called bipartisan structure. First, said Adams, the new Senate should have an equal number of committee chairmanships for Republicans and Democrats — and those chairs must be allowed to run their committees as they see fit. Second, the Senate’s own budget for staff and offices must be distributed evenly. Typically, the majority party’s senators are in control and award themselves the lion’s share of these critical resources. In a jointly run Senate, neither side should be at a disadvantage when it comes to these basic tools of support for each party’s agenda. And third, the Senate must adjust its rules to allow for fair play. This means that Democratic senators ought to have just as much right to introduce legislation and have it voted on as their colleagues in the new leadership.
“The Democrats may have been out-maneuvered in the Capitol,” said Adams, “but in the real world, they still represent more New Yorkers than Republicans do.”
Jeff Klein claims to “have a full-blown coalition government” that will move progressive issues forward. Dean Skelos says he made no promise of progressive legislation.
Senator John Sampson said, “You can’t have a coalition when you are basically leaving out the majority party – our Democratic Conference.” Furthermore, Sampson questions whether “the Republican Party which supported the policies of Romney, whose members are now in the minority, is going to continue to espouse the policies of Romney, who lost to President Barack Obama.”
Sampson outlining the “phenomenal legislation during our period of time”: repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, securing $700 million for Race to the Top, creating fair labor laws, new reforms with respect to MWBE, Public Authority reforms, No Fault Divorce and dealing with the MTA situation that was created while the Republicans were in control.
“We had the courage to bring marriage equality to a vote, because if we didn’t, even though it failed, we would have never known our actual numbers,” said Sampson.
“I really take exception to the governor saying, ‘We blew our shot.’ We did not blow our shot. When we were in control, the Republicans chose to create a coup which paralyzed us for a month. They chose to not vote with us on the budgets back in 2010 because we had to close budget deficits that were created when they were in control,” said Sampson. “So when people tell the story, they need to tell the whole story. When you talk about dysfunction and chaos, you need to talk about every time the Republicans feel they lose their grip on power and control, they will do anything, and I do mean anything, to regain their power.”
“We have always espoused that coalition is good for us,” said Sampson. “I have never heard a Republican Conference, when is in the majority, ever ask for a coalition with Democrats.”
“My anger is with the Republicans who support the policies of a Mitt Romney campaign, don’t support our president, create every single roadblock, deny progressive agenda and the governor put down his 10 points that he is going to measure the coalition against,” said Sampson. “This coalition contains 30 Republicans who when they were in control didn’t even approach those topics that the governor has talked about.”
Sampson characterized “the temerity of anybody to think that you can take away our majority and we are supposed to sit by while you try to pass progressive legislation and discount us, meaning they figure we are going to vote for it anyway because it is progressive legislation.” They are going to be fooled, he added. “We are not going to accept any watered-down pieces of progressive legislation that the people of the State of New York voted for.”
Explaining that the issue is bigger than him and bigger than the Democratic conference, Sampson said, “I will not allow people to use me as an excuse for not allowing Senate Democrats to be in the majority. I have indicated to everyone (in an appearance) at the National Action Network that I will step aside and will not seek the Majority Leadership chair for the betterment of the party.”
“It is not about power. It is about the progressive agenda that the people of the State of New York voted for,” said Sampson. “The people deserve what they voted for.”