Reflections on my first ‘semester’ as a freshman legislator
From “So, how was it in Albany? Are you loving it? Is it everything you expected/hoped it would be?” to “Tell me, how awful is it up there?” and “Who’s the next indictment?” I have been getting lots of questions. Many are well meaning, others not so much. These questions raise issues my constituents care about. They are questions upon which I reflect often, but I focus my reflections on the following two questions:
1. What impressed you most about the state Assembly? The rank and file members’ love and respect for the Assembly as an institution. The session had barely begun when we learned that the speaker was facing serious criminal charges. This was distressing and disturbing on many levels. Some of my colleagues had served with Speaker Silver for decades and were very loyal to him.
The Democratic Assembly members met and discussed their concerns, their relationships to the former speaker, their experiences and their personal stories and angst over this situation with great candor. As Yogi Berra used to say, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” To that I would add listening carefully. I observed and listened. I learned more about my colleagues and the institution of the Assembly in a few short days than I might normally have learned over a few years.
The Assembly was faced with a great and historic task. We took this responsibility very seriously. While varying loyalties and personal anguish and political considerations were evident, the overwhelming and unifying force was that the institution — the integrity of the Assembly as the people’s house — outweighed all. In the end, regardless of differing personal preferences, the body came together to put into place an approach for new leadership to emerge and a date certain for the discussion to be over and get on with the business of the people.
2. What surprised you most about being in the state Legislature? The constitutional supremacy of the Executive in the budget process. This is something I knew academically. The legislature seems perennially between the proverbial rock and a hard place. This became much more real as a member of the legislature. As I noted in previous commentary on this subject, under New York’s constitution, the governor has enormous powers — and the legislature has but two choices: accept or reject.
The governor has increasingly put policy proposals in his appropriation bills. This raises the possibility of either a government shutdown or the governor’s enacting his original proposal unilaterally through budget extender bills, which could be far more problematic. For example, this year the governor submitted radical changes to educational and other appropriations. He tied any school aid increase to the legislature’s approving proposals that I firmly believe would have further compromised student learning and achievement. The legislature made the best deal it could, but I was left with a pervasive sense that there ought to be a better way.
All in all, my first session was a great experience. I was able to pass five bills in the Assembly, two of which will likely be signed by the Governor. Which was most important to me? Passing the LICH [named for Long Island College Hospital] Act in the Assembly. This was also my first floor debate. I can’t describe how good it felt to speak on the floor about the true measure of LICH’s loss to our community and to know that by passing this bill I will have been part of ensuring that no community will have to go through this again.