Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein paints a glowing picture of bipartisan governance in the state Senate, with Republicans and at least a few Democrats joining hands in a coalition transcending old party labels and rivalries. As Hemingway wrote, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
New Yorkers may want to wait to get too misty-eyed over this kind new world. In the parlance of government, the sausage is still being ground. Whether it’s palatable will depend on the nature of the deals that are being cut behind closed doors.
If Mr. Klein and the other three members of his Independent Democratic Conference are to leave more than the legacy of scheming and corruption that the last breakaway faction of four Democratic senators did in 2009, they’ll need to show that they really are doing this for the people of New York, not just for themselves. If all that comes of this are some titles, bigger staffs and budgets, and more pork for their districts, this won’t be about good government, but about little more than money and personal prestige.
On the other hand, if this alliance brings about movement on the kinds of major issues that Mr. Klein is talking about, well, that’s a horse trade of a different color.
The IDC — which also includes David Carlucci of Rockland County, David Valesky of Onondaga County and Diane Savino of Staten Island — has already been working with the Republican majority the past two years. Now it is poised to gain new prominence, depending on the final election results. If Republicans, even with newly elected Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder on their side, fall just shy of the 32-seat majority, they would need Mr. Klein and his colleagues to win control of the chamber. So would the Democrats, of course, but the IDC seems not to be considering a return to that fold.
What could result, in the best light, is a coalition in which Republicans would actually have to negotiate with four somewhat progressive renegades. As Mr. Klein tells it, that would not mean creating a benefit for one side or the other, but, as he told Gannett News Service, “Democrats and Republicans working together to agree on a policy agenda.”
And that agenda? Mr. Klein has been advocating for a higher minimum wage, which Senate Republicans have been blocking, although a few GOP senators have more recently signaled that they’d be open to a package that link a wage hike to tax breaks for small businesses. Klein also has sought to close a loophole that police, particularly in New York City, have used to unfairly boost marijuana violations to criminal misdemeanors. And he has called for a system of publicly financed campaigns, an idea which, with the right execution, could lessen the influence of big money in state politics.
All worthy causes. There are a few more that should be on his list. The Senate should end the shameful practice of giving majority lawmakers control over extra school aid that reduces children to winners and losers of the chamber’s spoils system. And the IDC should push the Senate even further on campaign finance reform — tightening lax spending rules, reducing high contribution ceilings, ending loopholes that allow wealthy donors to get around donation limits, and creating a more effective Board of Elections.
No doubt much of the talk behind closed doors is going to be about who sits in the big chairs. We get that: it’s politics. But if the IDC really wants to make a mark on Albany, and not be remembered as an echo of the bad old days, Mr. Klein and his colleagues must make it clear that any deal has to include things that matter to all New Yorkers, not just to a few people in a backroom.