Albany, NY —
Republicans are poised to take over the State Senate again after a brief two-year hiatus, and GOP leaders are determined to do things differently this time.
Republicans kept an iron grip on the State Senate for over 40 years. Then in 2008, they were abruptly shifted into minority party status when Democrats won a slim 32-vote majority. Now, after two years of being out in the cold, the GOP is likely to be back in power again. One Long Island race remains unresolved and on appeal, but the Republican is leading the Democrat there.
Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, who represents a district on Long Island, says the biggest difference people will see is more regional representation for Long Island and upstate, which he says were left out during the past two years.
“It’s more suburban and rural representation that I think was lacking,” said Skelos. “Every single leader in the state for the past two years has been from New York City.”
During the GOP’s reign, Republicans were often accused of running roughshod over the Democrats in the minority, sometimes even denying them adequate copying paper, and designing inferior websites for the minority party members. When Republicans found themselves in the minority in January 2009, they became staunch supporters of equal treatment for all senators and for reform.
Skelos says they are not going to forget that lesson, once they are again in control of the chamber.
“We’ve learned from the past,” said Skelos.
Skelos says “treated fairly,” though, doesn’t mean completely equal distribution of resources. After all, he says, many more Republicans will become committee chairs. Those jobs usually come with stipends and extra staff allowances.
Skelos says he wants to extend his ideas for reform beyond the Senate and would like to open up the traditional “three men in a room” closed-door budget negotiations and reinstate legislative conference committees.
“There shouldn’t be anything to hide,” he said.
Skelos, if he becomes leader of the Senate, will be working closely with Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo ran on a fiscally conservative platform, promising to freeze spending and taxes, and impose a cap on the growth of property taxes. Those proposals are more in keeping with the platform of Senate Republicans than with the views of traditional Democrats in New York. Senator Skelos says he thinks he and Cuomo may have a lot in common. But he says there are party differences, and he does not expect it all to be smooth sailing.
“We’re supposed to have rigorous debates,” said Skelos. “We’re not just supposed to roll over to a governor or roll over to the other house.”
Even though the GOP is likely to be back on top come January, the party is unlikely to go back to the comfortable margins they once held. In fact, they will only have 32 members, just barely enough to qualify for the majority. That’s the same number that Democrats have held for most of the last two years. Democrats struggled mostly in vain to produce the necessary votes to pass legislation. But Skelos says he thinks the GOP will be better able to hold things together with a slim majority. He says after all, they did so from 2006 to 2008.
“We are more disciplined,” Skelos said. “We have very open and frank discussions within our conference, and then we come out united.”
Skelos say he realizes the Senate’s reputation has been damaged over the past two years. The attempted coup - which Republicans participated in - and the monthlong stalemate in its aftermath led to the Senate being labeled a “circus” and worse. Skelos says one way to start to repair the damage will be to balance the state’s budget by the April 1 deadline, to show the public that government can still work.