In New York, One Senator, Two Votes?

The latest controversy in the battle for control of the New York State Senate seems orchestrated to dispel the notion that lieutenant governors don't ...
by | June 18, 2009

The latest controversy in the battle for control of the New York State Senate seems orchestrated to dispel the notion that lieutenant governors don't do anything. As of this week, the Senate has 31 members that are loyal to the Democrats and 31 that will vote with the Republicans.

The absence of a lieutenant governor, following David Paterson's ascension to the governorship, suddenly is all-important. The New York Times explains:

Senator Pedro Espada Jr., the other Democrat who sided with Republicans and was elected as the new Senate president in last week's overthrow, said on Wednesday that the State Constitution allowed him to cast two votes in the case of a tie: one as senator, and one as acting lieutenant governor, who is empowered by the Constitution to cast a vote in the event of a tie. (Because the lieutenant governor's office is vacant, that office's powers fall to the Senate president.)

The constitutional language in question is vague, and any such move would probably lead to litigation by Democrats.

Mr. Espada also said that should the Democrats not return to the chamber on Thursday, his two votes, added to 30 votes from Republican senators, would be sufficient to provide the legal equivalent of a quorum.

A few days ago, Elizabeth Benjamin of the New York Daily News reviewed some of the other legal theories out there. Here's one:

Others suggested that if the chamber's leadership was in question at the time of a tie, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is next in line on the Capitol's power totem pole, might be able to cast the deciding vote.

And another:

Also being reviewed, as DN Capitol Bureau Chief Ken Lovett reported over the weekend: The possibility that Gov. David Paterson is still technically the LG, and thus still capable of casting a tie-breaking vote in the Senate. (Sen. Eric Schneiderman, who has been providing legal advice to the Democrats throughout the coup, is investigating this).

Personally, I think all of these potential acting lieutenant governors are lacking. Couldn't we get Andrew Cuomo to do this job? Maybe Caroline Kennedy? Or Sonia Sotomayor? Or Eliot Spitzer?

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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