ALBANY – Patrick Gallivan, a Republican state senator, will seek re-election next year.
So another veteran senator wants to remain in office. As an online commenter might ask: How is this news?
But as 2019 comes to an end – amid a scramble for the exits by a growing number of Gallivan’s fellow Senate Republicans – it actually is a big deal, at least in the insular world that is Albany.
One-third of the 23-member GOP Senate conference is disappearing. Eight Republicans, including every Republican senator from a large area of Western New York and the Southern Tier except Gallivan, have announced they were either quitting immediately, not seeking re-election next year or running for another office.
Gallivan said he won’t be joining the GOP exodus, spawned by their steep descent into powerless, minority party status in the 63-member chamber.
“I do not plan on going away … I will continue to represent the citizens of the 59th district,’’ Gallivan, an Elma resident, said in an interview.
Gallivan, the former Erie County Sheriff who served 15 years in the State Police, said he doesn’t relish being in the political minority in the Senate.
“It’s a difficult challenge being in the minority, no question about it," he said. "But, for me, I enjoy doing what I’m doing."
Like many upstate Senate Republicans whose districts were drawn in 2012 by Senate Republicans in hopes of maximizing GOP vote gathering, Gallivan’s district is sprawling: it includes all or parts of Erie, Wyoming, Livingston and Monroe counties. Of the 206,000 registered voters, 69,500 are Republicans, 65,500 are Democrats and 45,500 are “blanks” not enrolled in any party.
It’s been a tough ride for the Senate GOP since Democrats pushed them from dominance in the November 2018 elections. Democrats now hold 40 seats and they are looking to grow that number in 2020 in advance of the next redistricting round in 2022 – a process Democrats are all but certain to control in a way that could create a seemingly permanent majority in the Senate for the Democrats.
The year started off with Catharine Young, an Olean Republican, quitting her Southern Tier district. Senators Rob Ortt and Chris Jacobs, Buffalo-area Republicans, are running against each other for the GOP nomination for the U.S. House seat formerly held by Chris Collins, who quit following his guilty plea in an insider trading case.
Among others recently announcing they will not run again in 2020 is Michael Ranzenhofer, an Amherst Republican. And on Wednesday, Joseph Robach of the Rochester area, joined the departure club.
And there could be more.
Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican, was at the Capitol Wednesday seeking to put an "it’ll-all-work-out face" on the worsening situation for his party.
“I’ve been here 33 years. I’ve spent 19 of those 33 years in the minority. I know what it means to fight and claw back and try to get things done," he told reporters.
Senate Democrats are not even bothering to amend their official comments when another Republican drops the news of a retirement. “Every day we see another Republican senator abandon the sinking ship and announce their retirement. Having no money, no candidates and no ideas is a bad combination," said Mike Murphy, a Senate Democratic spokesman.
Gallivan, though, sees potential opportunities.
“There’s no doubt we’ll miss the experience of the people who have announced their retirements. On the other hand, for younger people to come forward who may have that younger energy and who are ready to take on the challenge, it may present a different face, if you will," he said. If the GOP can recruit good candidates to both take on incumbent Democrats and to run in districts of retiring GOP lawmakers “it might present an opportunity we haven’t seen in a long, long time."
The GOP senator believes the Republicans can make inroads outside New York City contests given that both houses of the Legislature are now dominated by New York City Democrats who drove through an especially left-leaning agenda in 2019.
“The biggest challenge we face is dealing with that New York City-centric leadership that is driving an agenda that is to the detriment of much of upstate," said Gallivan, who will be starting his 10th year in office when lawmakers return to Albany next month.