Niagara Gazette — Charles Dudley Warner was right when he declared that politics makes strange bedfellows.
A prime example is what’s happening on Capitol Hill in Albany where for the first time in modern history the state Senate will be controlled in 2013 by two “co-presidents” instead of a single majority leader. At least that’s how Sen. Jeffrey Klein, D-Bronx, leader of a renegade group of Democrats portrays the evolving structure.
The new form of government actually started taking shape nearly two years ago after a dissident group of senators were fed up with the dysfunctional system that seemed to gridlock the Legislature. They formed the Independent Democratic Conference, with four disgruntled Democrats agreeing to work with the Republican majority to make state government more effective. Klein spearheaded the drive of what quickly gained notice as “the breakaway Democrats.” The three other senators are: David Carlucci, 31, of Rockland County, the youngest member of the Senate; Diane J. Savino, who represents parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn, and David J, Valesky of the Syracuse area. Two other Democrats have talked about joining the group that would boost the renegade force to six.
If you’re keeping score, here’s the current makeup in the Senate: Republicans, 31, Democrats, 26, Independent Democratic Conference, 4, with two seats undecided.
Under the plan, as Klein envisions it, the fledgling independent conference will attempt to reach a power-sharing agreement with the Senate Republicans. Exactly how that takes form will not be determined until all the ballots are counted in two undecided races. He hopes that whatever the outcome,” a bipartisan effort “will prove the catalyst for pushing state government forward. Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos, R-Rockville Center, Long Island, is also committed to ending the dysfunction that has plagued the Senate.
“We felt there had to be a better way by governing in a by-partisan fashion,” Klein said last week. In a recent interview with New York Times reporter Thomas Kaplan, Klein said: “We can’t go back to the days of dysfunction. We can’t go back to the days or relying on every single Democrat to get things done, ignoring the other side completely, jamming through a legislative agenda which doesn’t have bipartisan support.”
Klein took issue the other day when it was suggested that he would be working with the Senate GOP to form a coalition government. “That isn’t true,” he snapped, “A coalition government is not benefiting one side or the other. It’s Democrats and Republicans working together to agree on a policy agenda, he said. Make no mistake, he’s talking about a three-conference Senate and how that will work is anybody’s guess at this point.
State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, is generally optimistic that the unique system might work, despite some concerns raised earlier. “We’ll need to take a wait-and-see attitude,” the veteran lawmaker said Friday. “One positive effect, as I see it, is that more issues can be brought to the floor.”
Maziarz was quick to note that he doesn’t agree with all the positions the IDC is promising to push.
Bringing more issues to the floor — as Maziarz predicts — would seem a major step since so many matters never reach that stage under the present system.
Unless things change, neither Democrats nor Republicans can claim a majority when the Legislature starts the session in January.
The bottom line in all these political machinations: Instead of the two main parties — the GOP and the Democrats — running the government in Albany, we’ll have three factions. There are, of course, Republicans on record vehemently against some of legislation the breakaway Democrats are pushing. That would would make four factions.
It’s still difficult to imagine “dysfunctional” vanishing from our vocabulary whenever the effectiveness of state government is discussed.
FOOTNOTE: The past election proved costly for the GOP in the state Senate. In fact, three out of the four Republican senators who broke from the party and supported the same-sex marriage legislation lost in November. Only Sen. Mark Grisanti of Buffalo, whose former district included Niagara Falls, won re-election.