Friday, March 16, 2012

Some Things Never Change

For Albany and the New York State legislature this week has been like Ground Hogs day.  We’ve been through this before, whether it be budget or end of session issues. Nothing in Albany gets done unless EVERYTHING gets done. This week redistricting was the fly paper that stuck everything else to it and it became the “Big Ugly” of this legislative session.  Like spring this year which came very early, the Big Ugly, which usually happens around the budget time or end of session, happened last night.
Tier 6, DNA Database, teacher evaluations and a constitutional amendment on casino gambling were all glued to redistricting.  A sane person might ask what do any of these things have in common?  Albany people know the answer to that: Gov. Cuomo wanted ALL of them.  So negotiations on all of those disparate issues had been negotiated for months and redistricting was how it was all going to get done.  The League had no position on any of the issues except our fervent desire to see meaningful structural reform of the redistricting process.  For decades the League has been lobbying every ten years, and in several of those decades during the middle of the decade, to get the legislature to pass a constitutional amendment which would provide for an independent commission to replace the current legislative task force commonly known as LATFOR. (For details on what this Constitutional Amendment would accomplish and frequently asked questions please refer to the Leagues website)
Let me just reconstruct for you a little of the Albany flavor around this Big Ugly.  Legislators came in on Wednesday and went in and out of session accomplishing very little.  As the day dragged on, so did the party conference meetings.  As darkness fell on the capitol, the real work began.  Apparently unaware  of the people’s business going on in the chambers, the state police locked the capitol as they do every night at .  Once it was brought to my attention, and the League has done this probably ten previous times, I walked over to the legislative correspondence hallway to talk to a local reporter.  I’ve gotten very good at this over the past 20 or so years.  Because of our now modern technology of Twitter, 4,600 people knew almost instantly that the Capitol was in lock down.  Next came a trip down to the second floor (governor’s offices) to make the governor’s office apprised of this before they read the tweets (2nd floor does not like to be surprised). I was able to talk to the  governor’s staff and after one phone call to the state police at my suggestion, Viola!  the state street entrance to the Capitol was opened. Yeah! An early reform victory!
By the debate in the assembly on the redistricting lines had been going on for hours.  When the debate started, it was easily noted that there were only 83 of 150 member s in the chamber.  It was also noted that many of the African American/Latino Conference were not on the floor; it was speculated all day that that caucus would have trouble voting for the lines due to their concern about minority districts. 
Meanwhile over in the Senate, the debate on the redistricting lines dragged on for 2 hours and 20 minutes debate until the republicans made a motion to end debate and call for a vote.  The Senate democrats went ballistic! There were a few minutes of screaming at one another and pounding of a gavel and suddenly the democrats got up and walked off the floor.  The lines were voted on and passed; the constitutional amendment on redistricting was voted on and passed by 32 republicans and four independent caucus members and suddenly it was done.  The republicans called it a night and resumed session in the morning.  The Assembly meanwhile persevered through the night dealing with the rest of the Big Ugly, adjourned and left Albany.
The League for years has complained about legislation being passed in the middle of night when citizen Smith and Jones are fast asleep; the further irony this week: this is Sunshine Week.  Albany after all is Albany.

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