hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial February-March 2019



Benefits and hazards of a one-party Albany


Remember when Albany meant gridlock? For so long, New York’s state capital was the place where even simple problems couldn’t be solved – and where good ideas went to die.
Then came November’s election, which upended Legislature’s balance of power. That balance has for decades, except for one brief period, included an Assembly controlled by Democrats and a Republican state Senate. But in November’s blue wave, voters swept away the GOP Senate, giving Democrats a lopsided 40-23 majority there.

So barely one month into its new session, the Legislature has suddenly gone from being of the nation’s most dysfunctional to one of its most productive – even if its processes remain opaque.
The list of major bills already enacted is impressive, covering everything from election reform to transgender rights, scholarship eligibility for “Dreamers,” and the long-stalled Child Victims Act, which will extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting felony sexual abuse of children.
Some of this legislation is so obvious and so long overdue that it’s hard to fathom why Republican senators didn’t try to get on the right side of it before they lost their majority.
The election reform package, for example, will consolidate New York’s state and federal primaries on a single day in June (rather than the current system of separate dates in June and September) – a complete no-brainer that will save money while boosting voter participation.
Another measure will let voters cast ballots up to 10 days before an election, as Vermont, Massachusetts and most other states already allow.

More action is ahead, covering everything from criminal justice reform to recreational marijuana to congestion pricing for Manhattan.

Albany’s new Democratic majority may soon discover, however, that the list of easy and obvious legislation is not really so long. And once those measures are enacted, the real tests of governing will begin. Already there are signs that the Democrats may be overplaying their hand.
Consider the case of the new Reproductive Health Act, which mainly codifies legal abortion in state law under the standards set by the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision. Putting aside a flap over language governing late-term abortions, which are extremely rare, a majority of New Yorkers likely supports the bulk of what’s in this bill. More to the point, many Democrats campaigned in part on their support for the bill, and they won the election in a blowout.
But was it really necessary for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to exult in the bill’s passage by having various landmarks, including the One World Trade Center tower, bathed in pink light on Jan. 22, the day he signed it into law? It wasn’t just the bill’s opponents who saw this as a message of disrespect.

In our era of polarization, there are partisans on both sides who want nothing more than to crush their political opponents. But there is still a middle group of voters whose opinions might decide the next election.

On abortion in particular, there are many New Yorkers who are pro-choice as a matter of public policy, because they don’t want the government intruding into personal decisions in a murky zone where conscience, morality and medicine meet. But as a personal matter, many of the same people also view abortion as abhorrent or, at best, tragic.

As Albany’s one-party government moves on to other difficult issues, its leaders would do well to put more effort into persuasion, inclusion and respect for dissenting points of view.



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