By Michael P. Kearns
There is a political crisis in Albany, but with every crisis comes opportunity. All New Yorkers hope for an end to concentrated leadership’s control of the law by making the process open and transparent.
The present crisis in Albany affords the people of New York State an opportunity for meaningful reform outside of waiting for the Moreland Commission’s final report. The Moreland Commission, an anti-corruption panel tasked with weeding out political wrongdoing, recently released its shocking preliminary report, which states, “What we can describe, though, is deplorable conduct, some of it perfectly legal yet profoundly wrong; some of it potentially illegal – and indeed, this commission will make appropriate criminal referrals at such times as it deems appropriate.”
The report makes several recommendations concerning Albany corruption, which in the last year has had several lawmakers arrested and indicted on corruption charges.
This dysfunctional state system can be reformed by implementing common-sense democratic reforms to combat public corruption and end a “pay-to-play political culture.” These reforms include the Brennan Center Legislative Reform Recommendations of 2004, 2006 and 2008. The Assembly’s dysfunction originates in the internal rules in which the speaker of the Assembly has the power to grant pay raises through committee chairmanships; control who becomes staff or rank-and-file workers of what should be independent committees; and control calling a bill out of committee and onto the full Assembly floor for a vote. This is the opposite practice of progressive legislatures, where independent ideas come with deliberated solutions.
There is too much power in Albany subject to the capriciousness of a single person. Disobey the speaker or dissent with his views and an Assembly member’s bills, however responsive to the needs of the people or constituents, will die in committee.
The possibility to increase greater participation and accountability in the system should be seized. The rules must be changed for the good of all people for the promise of a more robust, democratic and responsive New York State government.
The hallmarks of a robust legislative body are accessibility, accountability, deliberativeness and representativeness – all of which are missing in the Assembly because archaic rules rest the power in the hands of a few people.
To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, for the welfare and good of the people, by the people and for the people, Albany must change now.
Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo, represents the 142nd Assembly District.