Wednesday, November 05, 2008

NYS Senate: Mosh Pit, or Beacon of Change?

In this morning's NY Post, Fred Dicker sounds a warning to Democrats that their narrow win may turn out to be a pyrrhic victory: "That's because a combination of hardball politics - the threatened defection of Democrats to the Republican camp - and the grim reality of a $14.5 billion state budget deficit could quickly reverse their victory, or turn it into something they'll regret in two years."

The Smith path to leadership is not smooth by any means: "Political hardball, meanwhile, was already on display last night as the "Gang of Four" of potential turncoat Senate Democrats said they wouldn't return to the Capitol today for a special conference called to endorse Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith of Queens as the new majority leader. It's conceivable that the "Gang" will hold together into January and then join the soon-to-be minority GOP to again elect a Republican majority leader."

There are any number of possible scenarios in the offing, as in-fighting and high level negotiations start in earnest today; but whatever happens, the senate will be a divided body, and bipartisanship will have to be more of a necessity than an empty slogan: "Senate Republicans, whose private polling anticipated last night's loss, have worked for months laying the groundwork for bringing some Democrats to their side. "It's called coalition government," a senior Senate Republican sarcastically told the Post. "If we have to form a coalition with a few Democrats in order to stay in power, that's what we're prepared to do," he continued."

Smith isn't helped by all of his good friends in the Democratic conference, and the situation is sure to be chaotic in the long run: "Smith, meanwhile, may have an additional problem because of the active, but behind-the-scenes, effort by Bronx Democratic Sen. Jeff Klein to oust him as the Democratic leader so he can seek the job himself. There will be even more chaos than usual in the Senate in the weeks and months to come, reinforcing Albany's infamous reputation as a dysfunctional state capital and leaving Democrats wondering if controlling the Senate is really as sweet as they thought it would be."

In the midst of all this power jockeying, the state budget's in free fall, with tough decisions needed to address the seriousness of New York State's problems. As Dicker reminds us: "As the majority party, Senate Democrats will be asked by Paterson to make the most painful and politically unpopular budget cuts in modern New York history - a move certain to anger the powerful public employee and hospital workers unions and the other special pleaders who dominate state government."

On top of this, Bill Hammond reminds us of all of the good government promises Mr. Smith made while languishing in the minority: "Now that Democrats have seized control of the state Senate they must lead a revolution in how Albany does business. After all, that's what they promised. Time and again, as they suffered in the downtrodden minority, the Dems swore they would run things differently, if only they got the chance."

But Hammond is getting way ahead of himself, since he acts as if Smith is being coronated as the majority leader in the face of evidence that he simply doesn't have the 32 votes needed to be designated. That's not to say that reform isn't both necessary and desirable-it is. But process may have to wait until the leadership battle is fought to its conclusion.

As the Post underscores: "But the Democratic Senate success could be undercut by questions over the allegiance of four of the party's senators from New York City, who have refused to commit to supporting Smith as their party leader." And the NY Daily News reiterates: "Smith has called a closed-door meeting in Albany for this afternoon with his members. Sources say he wants to try to shore up support to continue to lead the party in the Senate and discuss the transition to the majority. The only potential hiccup is there is no guarantee that four Senate Democrats who formed an independent coalition will back Smith, or even a Democrat, for majority leader."

So, into the Valley of the Shadow of Death goes the Light Brigade. And we can be sure that Albany will be radically transformed in the aftermath of this high stakes battle.