Senate GOP: Talk of our demise is premature

State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) speaks at State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) speaks at the Republican Party Convention in Rye Brook on Thursday, May 15, 2014. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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ALBANY -- Senate Republicans pushed back Thursday at Democrats and pundits who claimed the GOP's decades of control are ending with a new deal struck by two factions of Democrats.

"Once again, they are writing our obituary," said Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). "I think we have always shown it was premature."

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the five-member Independent Democratic Conference would align with the mainline Democratic conference to form a slim majority in 2015. The IDC broke from the mainline conference four years ago.

Some political scientists say the deal likely will end Republican control. "It could be the end of the historic, century-long Republicans' 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.

Skelos said Cuomo, a Democrat, brokered the deal to garner more liberal support for his re-election, while liberal New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a driving force behind helping Democrats flip the Senate, is seeking statewide influence.

"Obviously he's looking to spread his tentacles to other parts of the state," Skelos said of the mayor. "If it keeps up this way, he's going to be the de facto governor."

Cuomo "sold his soul to the Working Families" Party for its endorsement and its "radical agenda" that will kill Albany's newfound bipartisanship, Skelos said. "I thought he had more strength of character than that."

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Cuomo declined to comment and de Blasio did not respond to a request for comment. Senate Republicans vow to win the majority outright, noting they have made a habit of beating the odds even as New York voter enrollment increased to its current 2:1 advantage for Democrats.

Democrats won the majority in 2008, thanks in part to overwhelming turnout for Barack Obama for president. In 2010, despite Cuomo winning by a landslide, Senate Republicans regained it. In 2012, the IDC formed a majority coalition with Republicans for the 2013 session.

Whether the GOP can regain the majority would affect progressive causes that have been blocked by Republicans, including more protection for late-term abortions, a higher minimum wage and college aid for immigrants here illegally, as well as Cuomo's potential run for president in 2016.

Thursday, even the head of the IDC seemed to hedge his bets.

Senate co-leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) said he intends to help elect "like-minded" Democrats and intends to be part of a Democratic coalition after the election. But he didn't directly answer a question on whether he would align with Democrats even if Republicans won a majority, or won more seats than Democrats in November.

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"I support bipartisanship . . . [but] I have made it clear I am a Democrat," Klein told public radio's "Capitol Pressroom." "Post-November, we want to start a new coalition with the Democrats . . . once the dust settles on the primaries, we'll talk about November."

Skelos insisted the IDC deal was intended to avoid damage from several Democratic primaries this year. Klein and the other four IDC members either face primaries or expect them. The deal comes two weeks before primary challengers have to commit.

"Some may bow out now because they don't have the support," said Lee Miringoff, political science professor and director of the Marist College poll. "This changes a lot of calculations."

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