Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Leadership and Budget Confusion

The fight over senate leadership is so confusing that there's even disagreement over what the rules say in regards to the choosing of a new leader. As the Times Union points out (via Liz): "A storm is brewing over what constitutes a valid election for Senate majority leader, and it could result in a clash unlike anything seen in the gold-leafed chamber in 43 years."

The Republicans and the Democrats are apparently on a totally different page: "Senate Republican lawyers, citing a passage in the state Journal Clerk's manual (last updated in 1970) dealing with the selection of a speaker, say a simple majority of the votes cast by those who show up to vote is all that's necessary. As things stand now, that would give Republican leader Dean Skelos the advantage over current Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith."

But the Dems, on the other hand: "They are completely wrong," said Mortimer Lawrence, Smith's chief of staff, who is also a lawyer. Senate Democrats say the majority of the Senate members must get behind one candidate — a higher standard than those simply showing up to vote. The Democrats base their interpretation on how many members must pass legislation."

All of which brings Alan Hevesi back into political relevance-at least for the dissertation he wrote over forty years ago: "First, Hevesi concluded that a senator can only become majority leader by gaining the majority of votes of the chambers members. That means Smith, whose Democrats will dominate the Senate in January, needs 32 supporters — three fewer than he currently holds due to the intransigence of the famous "Gang of Three": Senator-elect Pedro Espada and Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., both of the Bronx, and Sen. Carl Kruger of Brooklyn."

But the TU never really says definitively what the rules are here-and the pending leadership chaos is manna from heaven for the senate rebels who continue to bust chops. Here's Liz'a portrait of the "Caucus of One": "Sen. Carl Kruger, perhaps best known these days as the the ringleader of the Gang of Three, will be in Albany for tomorrow's special legislative session, but, unlike his renegade-in-arms, Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., he won't be caucusing with his fellow Democrats. That's not to say that the Brooklyn lawmaker, who is the only Democrat to chair a committee (Social Services) in the GOP-controlled house, will be taking part is closed-door Senate GOP meetings, either. "I'm caucusing with myself," Kruger said. "I have not been in a Democratic caucus for the better part of two years. I try to deal with a better class of people, I guess."

Kruger was sardonically referring to himself here-apparently Groucho Marx-like, at least as far as club membership is concerned. Kruger believes in a bipartisan approach, something that Malcolm Smith has belatedly discovered: "Their time might have been better spent trying to develop relationships that would have gotten some of our bills out onto the floor," Kruger said.
"That's what (Smith) now says he wants to do, ironically, run this as a bipartisan Legislature in a consensus atmosphere. That's something I've been trying to do for a very, very long time. It's amazing to me that at the eleventh hour, faced with the current circumstances as they are, he's decided to adopt that philosophy. I just wonder how long it will last."

But a spirit of bipartisanship certainly is absent from the current budget battle-an ominous sign for the governor who was forced to cancel today's special legislative session, As the NY Post tells us: "Outflanked by the lame-duck Republican majority in the State Senate, Gov. Paterson last night hastily delayed his call for an "emergency" budget-cutting session today and vowed not to move forward without a deal with the Legislature."

All of which bodes ill for the state, as gridlock on all levels leaves New York rudderless to deal with a severe fiscal crisis: "Paterson angrily labeled the GOP power play "a political game" that threatened the state's ability to weather the worst fiscal crisis in recent memory. "This is not a game," Paterson said. "If this state starts to fall into the same situation as California did, I want you all to remember this moment," referring to that state's recent announcement that government workers may have to take unpaid leaves."

According to Bill Hammond, it looks as if Paterson is gonna need a Plan B; but perhaps the senate Dems (as well as Dean Skelos) will need one as well. These are impasses that can't stand for much longer, or else we'll all be drowning together in red ink.