Cleaning Up the Capital

I like endorsements just as much as the next guy. So it bothered me when I was recently denied an endorsement from an organization dedicated to environmental protection – this being an issue close to my heart, and one for which my voting record is quite strong.

According to the letter I received, the board of directors “has decided not to endorse any incumbent members of the state legislature this year” because of the “failure to forge solutions to four of the five top environmental priorities” identified by the organization.

Point taken. Many important environmental bills did not even garner a floor vote in the Senate. Rather they died in the Rules, Finance, or – oddly enough – Environmental Conservation committee.

But keep in mind that Senate committees are tightly controlled by the majority party. (Not by freshman Senators, like myself, in the minority party.) According to the 2006 Brennan Center report, Unfinished Business, “It remains nearly impossible to get a bill out of committee without the support of a committee chairperson. There was not a single successful discharge motion in 2005 or 2006.”

Which brings me back to the letter of non-endorsement. This particular environmental group, and perhaps others, will have to reconsider their election-year strategies. They fail to acknowledge and reward legislators with a strong environmental record, much less punish those who fall short.

The alternative is pushing for real change – if not by endorsing incumbents who care about the issue, then at least by endorsing a platform of legislative reform. Environmental non-profits do a wonderful job cleaning up our state. But if they’re going to help clean up our legislature, they’ll need a more realistic approach.

Senator José M. Serrano represents the 28th District, which includes parts of the South Bronx, Highbridge, University Heights, East Harlem, Yorkville, and Roosevelt Island.