During my career as a substance abuse specialist, I understood that relapse lurked around every corner for recovering addicts. Much of the same may be said of Albany legislators.
Ten days ago, they relapsed to their habit of passing controversial and unpleasant legislation in the dead-of-night. Assembly and Senate leadership subjected their members to a marathon session of binge voting on a cocktail of bills. They passed legislation creating a gaming amendment to the state constitution, a new teacher evaluation system, an all-crimes DNA database, pension reform and a legislative redistricting plan.
In an effort to explain their relapse, one staffer reportedly said, “If anything, this proves the governor is one of us. The governor is as much Albany as anybody.” It’s no fun relapsing alone because the guilt and recriminations are often times worse than the hangover. It’s easier to rationalize and to project your slip onto someone else.
Political pragmatism placed Governor Cuomo in the role of enabler-in-chief. Acting like an addict’s frustrated significant other, Cuomo decided it was much easier to indulge the Legislature than trigger another unpleasant conflict.
On another level, Cuomo’s deep knowledge and understanding of Planet Albany explains why he has been able to avoid getting rolled in the Capitol’s dark passageways. His pragmatic compromise on redistricting and pension reform does not end his 3D chess game. Checkmate is still several moves ahead.
By enacting a flawed redistricting plan, Cuomo triggers Justice Department pre-clearance review and federal court action on the already filed lawsuits by Senate Democrats and advocacy groups.
The Senate GOP’s redistricting plan clearly harms covered minority groups outside of the three counties (Kings, NY and The Bronx) covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Minority communities in Rochester, Buffalo/Niagara, and on Long Island are divided in ways that impede their collective ability to meaningfully participate in the political process which demands a federal court remedy.
Cuomo ends up the winner because he gave the Legislature their flawed redistricting plan, parts of which the courts will throw out. And if the Democrats retake the Senate, they and Cuomo can remedy whatever weaknesses exist in the redistricting commission amendment.
In the short run, Cuomo gets some progress on pension reform, another on-time budget that holds down spending, expansion of the DNA database and a gambling amendment. Governor Cuomo’s skillful political pragmatism is neither felonious nor bespeaks of his embodying the Albany culture.
To the contrary, I’d say he understands that the potential for relapse is real and needs to be managed. Going “cold turkey” or slamming door on the legislature would have accomplished nothing but further dysfunctional government.
We can only hope that their relapse will not impair delivering an on-time and leaner state budget this week.
If that happens, we’ll have Governor Cuomo to thank.