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Filler: Cautious optimism over State Senate power-sharing agreement (with the emphasis on cautious)

Members of the State Senate work in the

Members of the State Senate work in the Senate Chamber as the legislative session winds down at the Capitol in Albany. (June 20, 2012) (Credit: AP)

The market for gavels up in Albany just got hot.

The possible need for an increased supply surfaced today when it was announced that Senate Republicans and members of the Independent Democratic Conference had entered into an agreement whereby they would share control of the chamber equally -- with Republican leader Dean Skelos, of Rockville Centre, and IDC leader Jeff Klein, of the Bronx and Westchester, even trading off the title of “temporary president” every two weeks.

On the face of it, this is a surprising deal, since the Republicans make up somewhere around half the Senate, pending certain ballot counts, and the Independent Democratic Caucus makes up about 7 percent of the body -- 8 percent if you count former Democratic Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, newly embraced by the IDC this week.


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This is clearly a deal with advantages, and not just for nameplate manufacturers. One of the biggest problems in both Albany chambers is that anything the leadership of the reigning party doesn’t want to deal with/be seen voting for/be seen voting against/or even be seen mulling, never comes up. Minority ideas are most often filed for careful consideration in trash cans. But the way this deal is designed, with Klein running things half the time and Skelos presiding over the rest, the potential for every legitimate bill to get a little public consideration exists.

And the public deserves that. It deserves to see the problems of the day and their possible solutions debated rather than shunted aside. It deserves to know where its representatives stand on the issues, rather than know only how talented they are at ducking them.

But if these two groups were so nobly set on governing by consensus, they'd likely give Democrats -- also nearly half the chamber -- a share of the power too. The fact that this isn’t happening makes it easy to believe that the same old political love of power is mostly what’s behind this move.

And the big fear is that such an unusual, even unprecedented power-sharing agreement may devolve into anarchy. To whom do the spoils go, with so many victors, and how well will a situation where political factions trade power twice every month work?

It’s possible, certainly, to argue that it couldn’t work any worse than the old system. It’s even possible to hope it will work far better.

The seasoned Albany observer always blends watchfulness with hopefulness. We don’t want to be cynical, but naïvete isn’t wise either.
 

Tags: state senate , power sharing , republicans , independent democrats , new york , leadership

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