While Democrats regained power in Congress in the recent midterm elections, in New York state they expanded it.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo was easily reelected to a third term and Democrats held on to the statewide offices of attorney general and comptroller. But what was most consequential was the party’s overwhelming takeover of the New York state Senate, winning at least eight seats and gaining their largest majority in the upper chamber since 1912.
That victory means Democrats now have complete control of New York state government for the first time in a decade, and only the third time in the last 50 years.
The party’s leaders have spent the last few years blaming Senate Republicans for stonewalling legislation on progressive principles and common-sense governmental reforms.
But when legislators return to Albany for a new session in January, Democrats will have no more excuses. They’ve won the voters’ confidence. Now they have to prove themselves worthy.
They should revamp the state’s incredibly archaic voting laws so that they are in effect in time for the 2020 presidential election. Citizens should be able to change their party affiliation with less restrictive deadlines.
They should allow general election early voting; it’s a practice that is already allowed in more than 30 states. And they should make it the state’s responsibility to automatically register voters through interactions with any state agency and update voters’ registration if they move or submit a change-of-address form.
They should be the champions of curbing state corruption that they claim to be every year. They should ban or severely limit lawmakers from earning outside income, or at least demand more transparency on the outside work they do when not in session. Jobs back in their home districts have the potential to create conflicts of interest with their governmental duties and create opportunities for corrupt bargains.
They should enthusiastically introduce campaign finance reform, which begins with closing the LLC (limited liability company) loophole, which allows big donors and special interests to circumvent the state’s campaign finance laws and funnel millions of dollars to the candidates of their choice.
They should put strict campaign contribution limits on state vendors to stop the endless pay-to-play culture in Albany that everyone rails against during election years — but always seem to forget about after they’re elected.
They should impose term limits on leadership posts in both legislative chambers, including the temporary president of the Senate, Assembly speaker, majority and minority leaders and all committee chairmen. This would stop entrenching individuals in powerful positions for decades where they can learn to abuse them for financial gain. This is something that Senate Republicans have passed numerous times but Assembly Democrats have failed to take up.
They should recreate the Moreland Commission to investigate corruption inside state government — a commission whose members are not appointed by the Legislature or the governor, who can’t shut it down at will.
They should begin working on extensive legislation to fight climate change. They should consider a statewide carbon tax in hopes of incentivizing industries to march toward the state’s goal of increased reliance on renewable forms of energy.
They should pass the Child Victims Act, which would extend the statute of limitations for survivors of sexual abuse, especially in light of the #MeToo movement and revelations of long-term abuse inside the Catholic Church.
They should demand a more transparent state budget process and end the tiresome “three men in the room” system of governing. As Democratic Conference leader, Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the first woman and African-American to hold that role, will now be a part of determining the state’s finances.
They should remember that there is more to New York state than just Westchester County and all parts south. The upstate region, which was ignored by statewide office candidates in the election, faces incredible economic inequality compared to New York City.
Too many upstate residents feel that the dominant downstate Democratic machine has left them behind for too long. The needs of upstate are largely what has kept the GOP in control of the Senate for most of the last 80 years. Now a Democratic majority, which has let down upstate many times in the last few years, has an opportunity to prove that they will also be upstate’s representatives.
Most important, Democrats should remember the last time they were in control. Gov. Eliot Spitzer had recently been ousted for his role in a prostitution ring, only to be followed by David Patterson, who was himself wrapped in scandal. The Legislature was racked with paralytic in-fighting and its Senate leader was eventually sent to prison. It’s not surprising they lost the Senate in the next election afterward.
Hopefully. the party is ready to get down to business as soon as they return to the Capitol. The people of New York deserve a better government than what they have. Here’s the Democrats’ chance to make it one.
Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/ WTVH CBS 5/ WSTM CW6) and an award-winning columnist at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” online and follow his updates on Twitter.