Is the New York Senate Worth Controlling?

While we wait for some clarity out of New York as to who will control the State Senate, here's a question: Is control of ...
by | June 12, 2009

While we wait for some clarity out of New York as to who will control the State Senate, here's a question: Is control of the Senate really worth winning?

To recap, the Democrats 32-30 majority was thrown into question on Monday when two members of their caucus, Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada, joined with Republicans to create a leadership coalition. Democrats are challenging the move in court, while Monserrate appears to be wavering on whether he is going to stick with the Republicans.

Controlling the Senate for the next year-and-a-half isn't irrelevant. But the exact effects of a (mostly) Republican takeover aren't clear. Some speculation suggests, for example, that gay marriage may actually be more likely to pass with Republicans in charge.

The real prize in New York is control of the Senate after the 2010 elections. That's when legislative redistricting will take place, likely determining whether Democrats will dominate the Senate for the next decade or whether the body will remain up for grabs, as it has in recent election cycles. If you doubt that redistricting can have such a large, lasting impact, look no further than the New York Assembly, where Democrats have more than twice as many seats as Republicans, thanks to a friendly map.

The question, then, is whether this coup makes Republicans more or less likely to control the Senate after 2010. If I had to guess, I'd actually say less likely.

There are a bunch of reasons for that. First of all, state government with Democrats in charge was looking more and more like a mess. Gov. David Paterson, or course, is broadly unpopular. Democrats spent the spring fighting with one another on a variety of topics such as taxes and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority bailout. Republicans might well have had success running against the Democratic majority.

What's more, Monserrate and Espada aren't exactly boy scouts. Monserrate has been indicted on felony charges, while Espada faces questions about his campaign finances and whether he lives in his district. Republicans could take a public relations hit by courting them.

Nor is it clear that Monserrate and Espada would be with the Republicans after the 2010 elections. Both claim to remain loyal Democrats. Both will face tremendous pressure to support a Democratic majority leader. If they don't, Democrats will be motivated to beat them in primaries in 2010 -- and motivated to beat Republicans elsewhere.

Republicans, though, do have an opportunity here. They recently proposed rules to make the Senate less authoritarian, as Daily Politics notes:

The Republicans are pushing term limits for Senate leaders, creation of a bipartisan legislative budget office to analyze the fiscal implications of legislation, proportional party representation on committees, equal budget resources for all members and other ideas they rejected when in the majority.

If Republicans could use their coalition majority to reform the New York Senate, voters might very well reward them in 2010. Albany has been dysfunctional for as long as anyone can remember. New Yorkers are so dissatisfied with state government that, regardless of what other issues are on voters' minds, a party that appears genuine about reform will have a leg up.

In other words, if the coup is allowed to go forward, Republicans may find themselves in a rare and fortunate position: One where it's actually advantageous to do the right thing.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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