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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Senate’s Stalemate

Lawmakers who switch from one political party to another, while in the middle of their terms, rarely see their legislative careers end happily.

Need some examples? Rep. Michael Forbes left the GOP to become a Democrat, and then lost a Democratic primary for his U.S. House seat in 2000, seemingly surprised that Democrats on eastern Long Island had no use for him. U.S. Senator James Jeffords, a Vermont Republican, left the GOP in 2001, single-handedly giving the Democrats the majority and leaving the Republicans with 49 votes in the U.S. Senate. Recognizing no political party wanted him in 2002, Senator Jeffords retired. And I have a feeling karma will strike again next year when U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, a long-time Republican from Pennsylvania, seeks re-election as a Democrat.

Yet the past performance charts for party-switchers were clearly not read by the two renegade Democratic state senators who cast their lot with New York’s 30 Republican senators on June 8. One of them has since jumped back to the Democrats, creating the current 31-31 deadlock in the state Senate, a tie that cannot easily be broken because New York does not have a lieutenant governor.

State senators Pedro Espada Jr. (D-Bronx) and Hiram Monserrate (D-Queens) stunned their colleagues when they aligned themselves with the Republicans and set into motion the past month’s extraordinary events in Albany. Monserrate is the senator who returned to the Democrats.

Unaccustomed to being in the minority, New York’s Senate Republicans panicked and got into bed with two of the most ethically-challenged Democrats in the state Senate, and that is truly saying something. Moreover, one of them is literally dangerous, according to the Queens grand jury, which handed up a felony assault indictment in March 2009 against Senator Monserrate for allegedly stabbing his girlfriend in December 2008 with a drinking glass.

I say all this as someone who was very disappointed when the GOP lost its majority last November in the state Senate, believing it represented an enormous setback for Long Island and upstate interests. The New York City-run state government in 2009 has already approved a state budget that increased spending more than 8 percent amid a severe economic downturn and authorized an MTA bailout plan which favored drivers in the five boroughs by leaving untouched 13 toll-free crossings into and out of Manhattan. In other words, the Paterson administration and a state Legislature dominated by city-based lawmakers were building a record that Democratic state senators on Long Island and upstate would have a tough time defending when standing for re-election.

Too many Republicans rejoiced when Senators Espada and Monserrate crossed the aisle, flipping the Legislature’s upper chamber to 32-30 Republican from 32-30 Democrat. Within a week, the whole thing was falling apart. I know winning elections is hard, and the Republicans have had little luck at the polls in recent years. But November 2010 is not that far off and successful campaigns, not back-room deals, are the only sure way to secure legitimate governing majorities. Plus, if a Republican is elected governor in 2010, a GOP lieutenant governor will be there to break 31-31 ties, too.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net