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December 8, 2012

Senate Dems'Albany loss isSeward's gain

The newly minted “bipartisan governing coalition” calling the shots in the New York Senate is the latest machination to hatch in Albany, though hardly the most shocking.

Under the arrangement, a small brigade of renegade Democratic senators — among them the most conservative members of their conference  — are making it possible for outnumbered Republicans to maintain a firm grip on the Legislature’s upper chamber.

That is good news for Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford. He and other Republicans holding important committee leadership positions undoubtedly would have been stripped of those assignments, along with the financial stipends and perquisites that come along with them, had the Democrats maintained cohesiveness.

Seward is the chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee, and while committee leaders have not been appointed for the 2013 session in Albany, his spokesman, Jeff Bishop, told me: “We have no reason to believe that is going to change.”

Given that New York is known nationally as one of the bluest of the blue states – with Democrats holding a 2 to 1 enrollment edge over Republicans – some may wonder how the GOP ends up controlling one of two houses in the Legislature. The answer is that district lines continue to be controlled by the party holding power. Last year, in a political deal cut with the Legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo backed off his stated commitment to push for independent redistricting.

The result was that the gerrymandering that has been in play for decades simply continued.

Longtime state Capitol observer Alan Chartock, the chief executive officer at WAMC public radio station, said he thinks Cuomo is perfectly content to have Republicans in charge of the Senate, even though the disloyalty of the breakaway Democrats is showing “what a house of prostitution the whole thing is.”

The developments in Albany are bound to have important public-policy implications. For instance, Assembly Democrats have been far more resistant to opening New York to hydrofracking then Senate Republicans, many of whom march in step with the natural gas industry.

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