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If we care for our state, let's step up

The guy has a lot of nerve.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been crisscrossing the state telling us that it's our fault.

It's not the arrogant politicians or the powerful lobbyists or the "pay-to-play" mentality. It's not the childish behavior that our state legislators exhibit at times or the steamroller attitude of any given governor.

No, it's us. We're the ones at the root of the problem. And unless we rise up and help him do the job, nothing in Albany is going to change.

Cuomo has traveled from Jamestown to Watertown to Poughkeepsie on an upstate tour aimed at pushing citizens to action ahead of the budget battle with the State Legislature.

"You know why it hasn't changed for 20 years?" Cuomo asked a crowd in Jamestown earlier this month. "Because you haven't insisted on it."

This from the ultimate insider. A son of a three-term governor who has spent decades in the inner circles of Albany and Washington politics. A man whose campaign slogan was so bland -- "The Drive for a New New York" -- that it's almost as if it were designed not to attract attention as he slipped into office.

Coming from Cuomo, those words sound more like that tired breakup adage in reverse: "It's not me -- it's you."

But here's the rub: He's right.

The bums in Albany have been getting away with shirking responsibility for our state for decades because we've come to expect so little of them. They've lowered the standards so much that we hardly blink an eye unless there's a scandal involving prostitution.

Time and again, we shrug it off as typical New York State politics. Maybe we get mad for a day or two. We might sputter and complain. But do our legislators get the message?

Apparently not. And it's our own fault. We treat Albany like a spectator sport. Around this time each year, we pull out the binoculars and popcorn and settle in to watch the spectacle as governor after governor battles it out with the Legislature over the budget.

We jump in the action only when they come to take away our jobs, our programs, our benefits.

When was the last time you contacted your state legislators? Do you even know their names? Do you make your voice heard? Have you picked up the phone, or sent an e-mail or (gasp!) written a letter?

Will you sit back and let those with millions of advertising dollars control the agenda yet again?

The battle lines over the budget have already been drawn. The slick advertising campaigns are emerging. On one side, there are public employee unions; on the other, a coalition of business groups. But where are you?

Cuomo is out there taking his message to the people. The real test will come in the next few weeks as he rolls out the nitty-gritty of his budget.

In the meantime, the governor has a shrewd strategy: Whip up the people before the people whip you.

"You have to rise up," Cuomo said in Jamestown. "Democracy only works when you make it work, and when are we going to change Albany? When the people of this state demand change."

He's a political pro, and it's a calculated message. But it's still a good one.

So this year, get involved. Call -- or e-mail or write or tweet -- the offices of your legislators. Just find a way to tell them what you want, because the stakes in New York have rarely been higher.

Whether Cuomo can actually produce a "New New York" is a long way off, but he has a point: It's up to us to demand that lawmakers do the right thing.

We got the message, guv. It's time for us to step up and do our job. And we'll see how you do yours.


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