Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Coup d'état or Coup de grâce?

The events of the past twenty four hours are beyond shocking. Never in our thirty years of Albany watching has anything transpired even close to what happened yesterday; and what it all means is as uncertain: "Republicans apparently seized control of the New York State Senate on Monday, in a stunning and sudden reversal of fortunes for the Democratic Party, which controlled the chamber for barely five months. A raucous leadership fight erupted on the floor of the Senate around 3 p.m., with two Democrats, Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens, joining the 30 Senate Republicans in a motion that would displace Democrats as the party in control."

And with the political tsunami comes the promise of bipartisan government:

"The new rules, as outlined via press release by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and passed immediately in the wake of the coup, are fairly lengthy. The full list appears after the jump. A few highlights:

- Splits the majority leader and pro tempore posts. (The latter presides in the absence of an LG, is subject to a six-year term and appoints the vice president of Urban Policy and Planning (that has been Monserrate's) and the vice chair of Rules (reportedly, this is going to be Monserrate's, too).

- The majority leader also has a six-year term, coordinates the majority conference, appoints officers and employees of the Senate, subject to the pro tempore's approval and - here's a scary one - designates persons with access to the floor.

- Eight-year terms for committee chairs and rankers.

- No proxy voting, no ayes without recommendation.

- Equitable access to Senate supplies, print and media production, administrative services, and mailing.

- Staffing will be proportional, but will never be less than 33 percent for the minority."

Which takes us right back to last winter when the Three Amigos (Monseratte had bailed) had walked the partisan tightrope-with some indications that they would move to install Dean Skelos as the leader. And, at the time, reform was in the air; something that all too frequently dissipates when political air freshener (in the form of a power aphrodisiac) is applied.

So what happens next? The deal that was crafted gives 10 chairmanships to Democrats; but will there be ten takers? That's by no means certain, and may not be until the dust settles on this upheaval. It may not be for a while, since it could take some time for the shock to wear off on the coup.

And what about state government itself? Characterized by many as already a dysfunctional mess, we now add a bit more than,"un soupçon," of absolute chaos. With a governor struggling to find meaning and exert real influence, we now also are faced with an internal battle royal in the state senate; and remember, the new majority still needs 32 votes to pass anything-and that includes the issue of mayoral control which the new leader was confident he could now move.

Others, however, remain skeptical: "Republicans seized control of the State Senate, installing Pedro Espada (D-Bronx) as temporary president and Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Nassau) as majority and vice-chair in a move that, among other things, throws the reauthorization of mayoral control of schools in serious jeopardy. The current law is set to sunset on June 30—in a deal already facing trouble—and the inevitable political wrangling could result in the legislature now failing to take it up for a final vote before the end of session and that deadline. That would create a statutory crisis, with the public school system immediately reverting to its 2002 form."

So we now march into the unknown, unsure whether it is a brand new day of reform; or, perhaps, the valley of the shadow of death for good government. The next few days may clarify the situation-or not. This is all way beyond anything that any of us has ever seen.