On the morning after Election Day 2018, most of the nation focused on the Democrats’ historic gains in the House of Representatives, and the resulting handoff of the speaker’s gavel to Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Things were going to be different in Washington.
But another historic result of the 2018 election – the change that most affected the lives of everyday New Yorkers – occurred much closer to home. For the first time in memory (except for a brief period in 2009), Democrats controlled all of New York State government after decisively winning the Senate. There was no question things would be different in Albany.
For generations, Republicans from upstate and the metropolitan suburbs controlled the Senate. The GOP could even pick off a statewide office on occasion, despite the Dems’ overwhelming registration advantage. It made for interesting politics, with neither side always getting what it wanted.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo reflected on the new Albany a few days ago while in Buffalo. He acknowledged that government functions much differently inside H.H. Richardson’s Capitol these days, and likes what he sees.
“What you saw was that the dam was released on a number of bills that sat for a long time,” he said, recognizing that a torrent of progressive measures formerly blocked in the Republican Senate were now flooding his desk for signature.
He ticked off a list of accomplishments, after being asked if state government has drifted too far leftward (as state Republicans now say):
• “Protecting a woman’s right to choose in case Roe vs. Wade is ever rolled back? I don’t think so, and the overwhelming majority of the people of this state don’t think so.”
• “The Child Victims Act? That’s a good law as the results have shown. It’s problematic for the church, but it’s called justice, y’know?”
• “Driver’s licenses for the undocumented? That’s their best argument [explaining such licenses were available until the Pataki administration as a matter of safety]. Now the issue has become a lightning rod for the immigration debate, which is what that question really asks people, I believe.”
For much of Cuomo’s early days, Capitol observers thought he more than tolerated the Republican Senate. It served as a foil, they said, against drifting too far leftward in a state that still regularly elected Republicans.
But the governor seems OK with Albany’s “new world order.” Indeed, in the past year or so he takes every opportunity to proclaim New York as a liberal bastion – “the progressive capital of the nation” – against the forces of conservatives and Trumpism.
“We are inarguably the most progressive in the nation,” he said during last year’s Democratic State Convention. “No other state in America has accomplished what we have in paid family leave, a $15 minimum wage, gun safety, the women’s equality agenda.
“These are national progressive firsts, and that’s why you see over 95 percent [of the convention vote],” he added. “And when you’re first in the nation, unless you’re competing with heaven, you’re doing pretty well.”
New York Republicans are ready to challenge Cuomo and his Democrats on all of this. New state GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy never fails these days to mention something about the governor’s “radical socialist plans.” He makes electing a Republican governor his top priority as he looks to 2022.
But that will prove difficult. Democrats hold a 3 million-voter registration edge, dominating even in upstate taken as a whole. And with a stampede of Republican senators (like Buffalo’s Chris Jacobs) bailing out, Democrats expect to add to their ranks in 2020. That means an even stronger Democratic Legislature will then reapportion many remaining Republicans into oblivion.
All of this proves interesting as Cuomo cozies up to Joe Biden, considered a moderate among the 2020 field of presidential candidates. But in New York, Cuomo and his Dems are successfully recognizing what, for the moment at least, reflects the political will of his state.
He does not appear ready to alter his course soon.