Thursday, June 18, 2009

Senate Coalition (GOP & Espada) Offer Power-Sharing

The Senate Republicans yesterday offered the 31 Democrats a power-sharing "bipartisan operating agreement" stipulated on Sen. Pedro Espada as the Temporary President and the Majority Leader position occupied by Republican Sen. Dean Skelos. Both those positions control the calendar of bills getting a floor vote and also select committee chairs.

The document reads that committee chairs will be named "on a bipartisan basis" and that staff allocations will be spread evenly among senators.

This is a reasonable, good-faith document that should be the basis of negotiations. The obvious problem for the Democrats is that they refuse to recognize the Senate vote earlier this month that installed senators Espada and Skelos to their respective leadership positions. As long as both individuals control the calendar and committee assignments, it's hard to imagine the Democrats budging, regardless of how bipartisan the leadership would be in running the Senate.

Since the 31 Democrats must harbor special feelings for Sen. Espada for his joining with Republicans, and were unable to persuade him to return (as they did with Sen. Hiram Monserrate), what if he was not the Temporary President? If, for example, Brooklyn Sen. John Sampson, the new day-to-day head of the Democratic conference, or Sen. Malcolm Smith, the recognized Senate Temporary President, served in that position with GOP Sen. Skelos serving as Majority Leader, this "bipartisan" agreement actually could work.

Sen. Sampson and Sen. Smith have been appointed by their Democratic colleagues to leadership roles and Sen. Skelos was been given a similar role by his fellow Republicans last year. Sen. Espada, by contrast, has gone back and forth between sides during his Senate career, though the Republicans did vote for him this month to be Temporary President.

Two Options to Organize the Senate:
1) Senators Sampson or Smith, along with Sen. Skelos, could make the Senate work under this proposed agreement since it's hard to see the Democrats accepting their former colleague, Sen. Espada, in any leadership position despite the fact that a 32-vote majority put him there -- a vote that the court refuses to invalidate.

2) Alternatively, a bipartisan operating agreement could have a leadership trio of senators Espada (remaining as Temporary President), Skelos and Sampson or Smith to decide bills getting a floor vote, member committee assignments (including committee chairs) and staff allocations. In effect, any one of the three could veto a decision or recommendation by the other two. This would be as bipartisan as it gets, with no "majority" or "minority" conference since there really is neither in a 31-31 Senate with a vacant Lieutenant Governor position. While three people leading anything would be cumbersome and contentious, it would be movement, nonetheless.

It seems the only worse thing than either option is the current situation: stalemate and inaction.

Peter Murphy
for The Chalkboard

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