More than one commentator has said in recent weeks that the entire lot of 62 senators ought to be thrown out by the voters in 2010. While there’s no danger of that happening, it’s not even a good idea. In fact that would be the worst thing that could happen to New York State government.
The month-long stalemate resulted from a vacuum of power rather than as a result of personal greed or a dereliction of duty. Keep in mind that the Democrats assumed the leadership of the Senate in January after four decades of being the minority party. That means none of the 32 Democrats had any experience running that body or facing the kinds of pressures that being in charge inflict.
We’ve been critical of Malcolm Smith’s leadership, but not out of a belief that he isn’t capable or his heart isn’t in the right place. It takes experience to become an effective leader and because Smith only had a two-vote majority, he wasn’t granted enough time to learn on the job.
Note: An insider tells me that Smith was beginning to master the knowledge and skills a Senate Majority Leader must have at his fingertips when the rebellion struck.
The fact of the matter is that the majority of the members of the State Senate are hard working public servants who put their constituents ahead of their personal needs. They spend long hours trying to assist individuals and community organizations while having to digest large amounts of often-arcane legal and technical information.
Ironically the reforms advocated by the Brennan Center and others would only INCREASE the burden on individual Senators. In a more democratic Senate, individual Senators would not be able to rely as extensively on leadership and the resources leadership is able to bring to an issue.
Further, can you imagine the consequences of 62 rookies coming into Albany in January with no one knowing proper procedures and policies? Such a scenario would likely result in a much longer stalemate than the one we saw this past June.
That said I’m with anyone who was motivated by June’s events to run for office. We need more competition in choosing candidates and the voters deserve more choices.
No matter how satisfied you are by the reforms passed by the Senate – and Empire Page readers gave them an “F” in last week’s poll question, the only reform that counts is the one that would take the power to draw district lines out of the hands of the state legislature.
Legislative district lines should be drawn with an eye of making districts more competitive instead of safer for incumbents, which is how things have been done for decades. Without that reform anything done by the Assembly or Senate resembles moving old furniture around in a small apartment. It may look different but when you sit on it, it’s the same old couch.