Sizing up 2010: Watershed Year in NYS Political History

2010 will be the most important year in NYS politics in decades, as every major elected office in the state including the entire state Legislature, all 29 members of the House of Representatives, the governor, comptroller, attorney general and both US Senate seats are up for grabs in November.

The longest lasting impact of the 2010 elections will be which party ends up controlling the NYS Senate, as the winner will redraw Legislative and House districts for the remainder of the 2010s. New York’s relative decline in population nationally will cost at least one seat in the House of Representatives. Which incumbents are pitted against each other in 2012 will be determined by re-districting.

If the Democrats win control of the Senate, the Republican Party have trouble raising money and fielding viable candidates for races at all levels for years to come. If the GOP re-takes the Senate, their future looks much, much brighter.

Three major factors will determine the outcome of the battle for Senate control – the national economy, how the sitting Legislature balances the state’s budget this spring and what kind of organizational push the Republicans are able to mount against incumbent Senators.

Democratic candidates in NYS will be impacted if the national economy continues to be weak through the spring and summer of 2010. Compounding such a scenario are the problems the governor and Legislature face in trying to address a $10+ billion budget deficit going into the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

The Legislature has three main options: raise taxes, reduce the state’s payroll, which would anger the public employee unions, and/or reduce aid to localities (Medicaid, schools, etc.). They will make enemies no matter how they try to trim that pie. (Look for incumbents in swing districts to battle party leaders over specifics.)

One outcome of having to make no-win choices could be tension between the teachers’ union and the state’s other public employee unions. That could manifest itself in terms of reduced financial and get-out-the-vote support for some incumbents.

If the Democratic Party cannot run on its accomplishments and if the national economy is weak, the outcome of many races will come down to individual candidates and their election organizations.

The Democratic Party in NYS is largely dependent on the public employee unions with their ability to contribute campaign workers in order to win elections. Because Democratic legislators are so beholden to these unions, I predict they will balance the state budget by raising taxes on “the rich” and reducing aid to localities.

On the other side, despite the emergence of groups like Unshackle Upstate, which represents property and small business owners, there is no equivalent to the public employee unions in terms of get-out-the-vote muscle.

To have a chance, therefore, the Republican Party will have to field candidates who can with integrity convince voters that they will put lowering property taxes ahead of government spending. The Conservative and Independence party lines will be important in some races and as a result of Democratic Party’s large majority in registered voters, the Republicans must win over the majority of independents in order to have a chance.

If Pres. Obama’s stimulus program results in reduced unemployment by the fall, if his energy and healthcare programs move forward, and if tax revenues allow the Legislature to balance the state’s budget without inflicting too much pain on local government, the Democrats will sweep the 2010 elections and will be able to solidify their political control. Stay tuned.

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