Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Albany's bungling politicians might learn from state Senate coup chaos

Updated Tuesday, June 16th 2009, 9:23 AM

We go from three men in a room to 62 buffoons in a chamber, from the country's most dysfunctional state Legislature to a Legislature that does not function at all.

"It's gone from dysfunctional to laughable," said Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice. "It's embarrassing."

The Brennan Center conducted an authoritative study of the Legislature five years ago and found it the most dysfunctional in the nation.

"Since that time, I think particularly in the last couple weeks, it looks worse that it ever has," Norden said.

He does see one glint of hope in the two freshman senators, Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate, having thrown the established order into chaos, however questionable their motives, however influenced their actions were spurred by bumpkin billionaire Tom Golisano.

"These two guys have shown what a couple of rank and file members can do," Norden said.

Monserrate then threw the new order into chaos by deciding to rejoin the Democrats, putting doubly to lie an excuse Norden has long heard from legislators, who whine that the leadership has all the power. The whole senate was upended twice by a newcomer who left the police department after putting in for a psychiatric disability.

"Members can cause a lot of havoc and do have more power than some of these legislators have said," Norden noted.

Maybe legislators who are truly reform-minded should be a little more nutty.

"I'd like to see members start taking some risks," Norden said. "Everybody talks the talk about how much they want reform, but can't do it. Now is an opportunity to push the envelope a little."

The lesson is this:

"They can do it if they want."

Not that Norden or anybody else in their right mind would endorse the present chaos that has the 62 buffoons unable to determine who exactly is the leader. A ray of hope is not necessarily cause for optimism in the New York State Legislature.

"It's hard to be Pollyannaish when you're talking about Albany," Norden said.

There remains a remarkable fact that has people buzzing at the dinner table and on the corner and in the subway - the worst state Legislature in America has actually gotten even worse.

"We're at a complete standstill," Norden said. "It was bad enough when the leadership controlled everything and there wasn't much of a leadership process. Now, we don't even have that."

He added, "I don't think, by the way, we would be happy if we go back to ironfisted control on behalf of one person in the Senate. I'm not pining for that."

What makes this travesty all the more a tragedy is that good government advocates started the year almost optimistic.

"Whoever assumes the Senate leadership has the opportunity, the tools and the public support to enact real reform in 2009," Norden said back in January.

Malcolm Smith had introduced numerous reform resolutions when he was in the minority, but when he became the new Senate majority leader, he did next to nothing to implement them.

A rare sign of progress did materialize in May, when the Cities Committee chaired by Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn) held a "mark up session," actually allowing open discussion and amendment of a bill, just like in a real democracy.

"In every other state legislature in the country that would have been a common, everyday occurrence," Norden said. "As far as I know it's the first time it's been done in Albany. Because of that, they had to figure out the rules for doing it."

The Brennan Center was seeking others to follow Squadron's example when the coup made the worst even worse, a banana peel republic that fell right on its behind. The once dysfunctional legislature was still not functioning at all as of last night.

"I can't say that surprises me all that much," Norden said.

Even so, by the very act of bringing the Senate to a standstill, the odious Espada and the whackadoo Monserrate have proven that legislators cannot just whine that the leaders have all the power. We should bombard each and every one of these buffoons with a simple message:

"No excuses! You can do it!"



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