Max & Murphy: Democratic Leader Says ‘Dysfunction’ Describes Senate’s State

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Ben Max/Gotham Gazette

Andrea Stewart-Cousins is the first woman to head a state legislative conference in New York history.

When Ben Max and I asked Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Friday about the contentious events in the State Senate chamber in Albany earlier this week, she did not dwell on the legislative machinations that have dominated news coverage: The Democrats on Wednesday having the lieutenant governor on hand to break a 31-31 tie, the Republicans challenging the notion that Kathy Hochul could even cast such a tie-breaking vote, and the GOP’s move to shut down business rather than lose control of the body.

Instead, the Westchester Democrat and Senate Democratic leader talked at length about the reproductive law that the Democrats’ failed Wednesday gambit was hoping to correct. “We were in the forefront in 1970,” Stewart-Cousins, the Democrats’ minority leader, said. “But we are behind the pack in 2018.” She detailed the Democrats’ desire to move abortion law from the criminal code to the health code, and asserted that limitations in the current state law forced women to leave New York to get the care they need.

Stewart-Cousins did not talk about the legislation at the heart of the Republican counter-attack on Thursday, which concerned concussion protocols for students. But she did accept the label that some observers have used to describe the state’s upper house. The fact that for two days the Senate was unable to conduct business was, she said, “dysfunctional.”

Not that this was the first episode in Albany to qualify for the D-word. The Democrats only lack an outright majority because one of their members votes with Republicans. But that close margin is a new reality, the result of a a unity deal achieved in April between the regulars and the Independent Democratic Conference after years when the Democrats were undermined by that breakaway faction.

Stewart-Cousins insisted that unity is reality for the Democrats now. She had less to say about whether Gov. Cuomo could have achieved that unity earlier. She did, however, indicate that the Cynthia Nixon-Andrew Cuomo primary was a healthy thing and that she expects a “blue wave” to net the Dems an outright majority in the Senate come November.

But there are majorities, and there are majorities. The Democrats thought they had control of the upper body after the 2012 elections, but the IDC broke away to put the GOP in charge. Would anything that’s happened over the past two months, with former IDC members welcomed back to the Democratic fold and their respective primary challengers left dangling, discourage some other minor faction from trying to split off and make itself the linchpin of power in the Senate?

Stewart-Cousins seems to think that the breakaway tactic is no longer viable in the era of Donald Trump and steeper consequences. “I don’t believe it’s a blueprint that any party wants to see,” she said.

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