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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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To give you an idea of how messed up things are for State Senate Democrats as this is being written, their gay pride event scheduled in Manhattan yesterday was protested by (wait for it) gay pride organizations. I can’t read that line without giggling.

 

I am sure that by the time this is printed, some kind of accommodation will have been reached and the State Senate will begin functioning again. This is not the first time this year that the Senate has gone into stasis as control (more giggling) is ironed out. However, coming as it does only days before scores of laws affecting other levels of government expire, municipal and school officials are bracing for extremely unpleasant repercussions. By proving themselves incapable of coming to the kind of compromise that 10-year-old children can work out when choosing sides for dodge ball, State Senators have put even the daily, mundane functions of local governance throughout New York in jeopardy.

And some Senators seem oblivious to how they are being perceived and how out of touch they seem to be with reality on the ground as most of us subscribe to it.

My Senator sent a mass, junk email blaming the media (“It is unfortunate that the media has chosen to portray these past few weeks as a time where no work is being done…My office has been assisting constituents, hosting office hours throughout my district at various libraries to answer questions and provide information.”) They certainly came to my local library, recently stuffing the information rack with no less than 19 different brochures bearing the Senator’s photograph. My personal favorite is the one about driving. I found the tips about when to turn on headlights and use seat belts particularly eye-opening. Another good one is all about the benefits of the City University system, even though the Senator does not represent any New York City residents. I didn’t think that in this economy, with applications to public universities through the roof, we needed to print this kind of thing right now, but it does have the Senator’s picture, in color. Twice.

I kid, sort of. It is striking, though, how many of our elected officials confuse their actual public responsibilities with the things they do to curry favor and goodwill to get re-elected. Usually, it doesn’t matter much if the two things are confused. This is one time it is important to see the difference.

It does little good to pile on. Nothing I write here could possibly lower most people’s opinions of our legislature or our Governor. I’m pretty sure that I’ve already written more about the need to reform how we choose a Lieutenant Governor than any regularly published commentator in the state. I’m not proud of that, but there it is. There is one dynamic that you should keep an eye on over the coming days and weeks.

There have now been a number of calls for a Constitutional Convention to fix some of what is broken in Albany. In 1977 and 1997, groups usually associated with progressive legislation and reform joined to defeat convention propositions, fearing what could happen to public school aid, pensions, civil rights and other protections in the current document. It’s not clear if that would happen again.

Constitutional Convention delegates are elected three to each State Senate district (plus fifteen elected statewide), giving local political organizations and sitting state legislators big advantages. Efforts to convince the parties to nominate highly qualified civilians in the spirit of bipartisan good government failed utterly in 1914, 1937 and 1966, the last three times delegates were elected. Without controls, a convention will likely include scores of state legislators, who will elect legislative leaders as their President, floor leaders and key committee chairs. The 1967 convention looked and acted very much like the regular legislature, complete with the names of delegates mounted on plaques at each chair in the Assembly Chamber. Unless the convention parameters are spelled out very precisely and carefully, it could end up locking into place the vision of the politicians who have precipitated the need for change in the first place, and for years to come.

And that would be nothing to giggle about.

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