Spin Cycle

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Republicans’ grasp on state political power could soon end, experts say

ALBANY -- The potentially game-changing announcement on Wednesday of a plan to create a Democratic majority in New York’s Senate could end the era of Republican control of the chamber, said two authorities on state politics.

“It could be the end of the historic century-long GOP’s near total dominance of the Senate and the beginning of almost total marginalization of this party in statewide politics,” said political scientist Gerald Benjamin, a professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Professor Doug Muzzio of Baruch College's School of Public Affairs put it simply: “It’s DOA for the GOP.”

Senate Republicans, who have defied pundits' projections for years in the state domianted by Democratic voters, called the comments "out of touch."

“Four years ago ... we defeated four Democrat incumbents and won an outright majority, and they're going to be wrong now," said Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif. "After November, Senate Republicans will once again have a full majority so we can cut taxes, create jobs and protect hardworking Long Island families."

The Independent Democratic Conference of breakaway Democrats announced Wednesday that it would break away next year from the Republicans and their historic bipartisan majority coalition in the Senate. The planned merger would begin in January, when the next legislative session begins, but the announcement will color the legislative campaigns this year.

Republicans are vowing to fight back and to win their own majority outright, or win enough seats that the IDC would need to return to a bipartisan coalition led by Republicans to retain any share of the majority.

“In the heat of primaries and elections, people say a lot of things,” said Seante co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). “When primary season is over, I’m confident that cooler heads will prevail. And, make no mistake that once the dust settles from this election, Republicans will have a full majority.

“Even then, we will continue to work with Democrats to cut taxes, create jobs and move this state forward,” Skelos said in a statement.

Benjamin said the result for New Yorkers will likely be approval of using public money to help fund campaigns to limit the influence of big money donors; a women’s rights package of bills stalled for two years over its measure to strengthen the late-term abortion law; and the long-proposed Dream Act to provide college financial aid to illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children.

The IDC and Democrats promise to push these items in a liberal agenda, much of which had been blocked by Republicans.

The next step to watch: Will Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) retain his role as leader of the IDC, Benjamin said.

Under the agreement announced Wednesday, Klein would be co-leader with Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), who now leads the minority conference of Democrats.

Muzzio has argued that the Republicans have retained power in the state dominated by Democratic voters by gerrymandering every 10 years to protect incumbents by massing GOP voters in districts. The latest such redistricting was two years ago when Republicans again drew their owns district lines, which were approved by Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, when Republicans were his critical allies.

Now Cuomo supports the IDC returning to the Democratic conference, which is now in the nearly powerless minority.

Tags: Senate control , bipartisanship

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