Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dean of Discipline

According to Spin Cycle, current senate majority leader Dean Skelos is getting desperate: "Then, finally, there's the plan unfurled in the morning papers to put the Senate Finance Committee on steroids and hand it to Gang Dem Carl Kruger in return for his vote. One reader notes that this, of course, would be the same Finance Committee currently chaired by venerable LI Senate veteran Owen Johnson, who would apparently be rewarded for his loyalty by being dumped."

One man's desperation is, well, another's wiliness; or, perhaps we should say that, "desperate times demand desperate measures." If Skelos can pull this off, he deserves a medal-and maybe the Spin Cycle folks should be prodding Malcolm Smith into a more desperate posture. He certainly will look silly if the Skelos gambit actually can be pulled off.

For his part, Skelos showed up in the Bronx for Ruben Diaz's turkey event-as did Smith-and he offered the following about Diaz's support: ""I have no idea. I'm not a gambler. You'd have to ask him," Skelos said. I also asked Skelos about proposed changes to the way the State Senate Finance Committee operates. If enacted, they would give enormous amounts of power to the chairman, and could be a way to lure a Democrat to other side. Skelos scoffed at the idea it was an attempt to get a Democratic to vote for him as leader, saying, "No matter what you do, you're going to be criticized." He added, "We have to put politics aside. The elections are over." Glad to know this.

As far as the finance committee is concerned, this ploy may just be the beginning-with a whole slew of possible bipartisan initiatives forthcoming. Which is just what Senator Kruger told the Daily News: "Sen. Carl Kruger, who did not attend Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr.'s Thanksgiving love-fest in the Bronx this afternoon, told DN Capitol Bureau Chief Ken Lovett: "We're weeks - maybe months - away from any kind of agreement" on who will lead the state Senate. A Senate Republican plan to empower the Senate Finance Committee to woo the himself and the other Gang of Three members is a positive step, Kruger said, but added: "That move is just a tip of the iceburg. We're retooling a system that's been in place 100 years. That's not going to happen in one fell swoop."

This doesn't stop the NY Daily News, however, from its editorial presumption on the matter-assuming facts not in evidence, as the lawyers might say; the News editorials see "deform," and bribery in the Skelos move: "State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is engaging in naked political bribery and calling it reform. That's how twisted Albany's culture is...So Skelos is fighting to keep his grip by luring Democrats into his column. Should one come over, he is reportedly willing to make that person chairman of the Senate Finance Committee - with a $5.9 million budget to be used as the person saw fit. Without having to get the boss' okay. That's the way the system should function on every committee - and not just as part of a crass deal. What Skelos is proposing would further deform, rather than reform, Albany."

Hold on there folks. As Kruger has said this may be-and should be-only a first step towards real legislative reform; and the News should wait a bit before making intemperate snap judgments.

And the Skelos template has appeal-even for the governor: "The Senate plan to give more power to the Finance Committee got qualified support from Gov. David Paterson, who noted it was Republicans who changed how the Finance Committee operated back in 1993...In the end, however, Paterson said he views the idea of having a Finance Committee with a separate budget and a degree of independence "a good reform idea."

What remains to be seen is the possibility that the bipartisan template could be co-opted by someone other than Skelos-who Paterson probably would wish to be displaced. The longer this drags out, the greater the possibility that a dark horse leader will emerge