In New York, the plot thickens. And there’s a useful lesson here for American progressives—both elected officials and grassroots leaders alike—on what to expect as they build power and organization.
The background: The New York State Democratic Party is on the verge of passing a resolution to ban “fusion” voting. A vote is scheduled for Monday, unless Governor Cuomo decides otherwise.
The reasons are described in this earlier column. But the bottom line is this. Governor Cuomo allowed the New York State Senate to be controlled for the last six years by an unholy alliance between Republicans and rogue Democrats.
Progressive-minded Democrats won big in November, and the Senate is now under the leadership of Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers. She is the first woman to lead a chamber in New York. And together with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, both legislative chambers, for the first time in state history, are led by African Americans.
So the governor no longer controls what legislation comes to his desk. He is in a rage that the legislature wanted to be consulted on the Amazon deal that he and Mayor de Blasio (mistakenly) negotiated in secret. And he’s out to embarrass the State Senate and make them understand that this kind of independence will not be tolerated. How? By forcing the Senate to show disdain for the forces, epitomized by the Working Families Party, that broke the back of the rogue Democrats.
If this seems ridiculous, that’s because it is. But it puts the Senate and Stewart-Cousins in a bind. A substantial majority of Democrats oppose such a ban, but the governor has immense structural power over the legislature that he is willing to misuse. Stewart-Cousins should insist that any change to the voting laws be taken up in regular legislative order. The governor has immense structural power in the budget process, and it won’t be easy for her to stand strong against him. But she must do so.
The forces of decency won big in November’s elections, and legislative leaders always have the difficult task of balancing the need to simultaneously pass legislation, keep the conference united, respond to the activists, and mind the governor. It’s not simple. But the legislature is a co-equal branch, just as Speaker Pelosi is showing in Washington, and this is one case in which Leader Stewart-Cousins should “just say no” to any attempt to limit democracy in New York.