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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Seat No. 32

In the end, the State Senate Democrats were greedy, and they’re paying for it. Even if by the time you read this, they have made whatever deal or paid whatever blackmail to regain a 32nd seat and technical “control” (whatever that means at this point), they got greedy and now it all smells rancid and ruined.

It was plain that Democrats did not have a clear working majority after last November’s elections. It would have been a huge step forward for the party and for the state if they could have gained resources and influence over policy on an equal basis with the Republicans. The leveled playing field would have been enough, because the Republicans are fading fast across New York. Seven years ago, I suggested here that Democrats would likely win a majority of Senate seats in 2008 or 2010 at the latest. It’s not clear that the G.O.P. would have the ability in numbers or demography to gerrymander a continuing majority when districts are redrawn in 2012. Democrats could have taken the high road and earned millions of dollars in free, positive publicity, laying the basis for increasing gains as the party of selfless good government and (that magic word) change.

Split control in state legislatures is not unusual. States survive the experience. Twenty years ago, Indiana’s House of Representatives had to elect co-speakers who presided on alternating days. Montana’s legislature has had so many even splits they have a very logical law laying out a simple procedure (the governor’s party is in charge of house operations). Wyoming once flipped a coin to determine which party got to call itself the majority. These states didn’t have to turn in their flags and they even got to have their own commemorative quarters.

Instead, Democrats tried to show that they, too, were ruthless beasts of prey in New York’s political jungles. But ruthlessness isn’t enough for New Yorkers, not any more, and Senate Republicans have decades of practice on them. Democrats were so busy playing powerful that they forgot about playing well. It is absolutely stunning how little actual sympathy seems to be out there among the groups that played big roles in getting the Dems to that 32nd seat last fall.

There are lobbyists, labor groups, those with a strong interest in marriage equity and others who see the loss of a Democratic majority as a setback. This is particularly true because New York Republicans are increasingly held hostage to the unpopular agenda of the Conservative Party. But personal sympathy or disappointment? I don’t see it, not as I’m writing this. There are committed Democratic clients and coalition partners who are really peeved at what’s been happening and not happening for the past six months.

New Yorkers who are still paying attention may be confused as to what the two sides are fighting over at this point. It’s clear that there will have to be some kind of coalition or accommodation to get anything done. What’s mostly at immediate stake here are several score of staff appointments, and hundreds more later if one side can consolidate control. I feel bad for staffers who now face an uncertain situation, especially since many recently left other positions to sign on with the Senate Democrats. I don’t really feel anything for the senators themselves, since most do not seem to have any higher objective or purpose, a feeling only magnified by the disgusting bidding now under way for the vote of one or two senators. That’s a bar that was already lowered to the floor last December, when the first rewards were paid to some senators for not bolting the caucus.

Ghosts of the Future, where is the New York Senate when this is published next week? Are the Democrats in control? Are the Republicans in control? Why, exactly, should New Yorkers care who gets to puff out their chests and say that they are in control?

Everyone can see that no one is in control. That’s the first step to getting out of this debacle, for both sides.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. He lives in New Hyde Park.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net