Political reform in New York is a bit like the Brooklyn Dodgers, minus some of the bedrock faith. Frustration builds, commitments are pledged, hope leaks back in, and then the result is not the one everyone wanted, and some had even thought possible.
In each of the last several election cycles, dissatisfaction with Albany has set new high-water marks, but that has not translated into significant changes in the political process or--more importantly--the political culture. It's safe to say that dissatisfaction with Albany peaked again this year--how else to explain Carl Paladino, for example. So what difference will it make?
Maybe a lot, and here's why.
A new governor who is energetic, well-connected, ambitious, and experienced--and who has had the opportunity to go to school on the failures of past governors and of himself--is coming into office. He wants to accomplish big things. A new majority from a different party is coming into the Senate, and it's keen to solidify its position and provide a long-term bulwark against a lower house that will remain Democratic for the foreseeable future. It too needs to show that it can actually accomplish things.
The problem, of course, is that there is no money to do anything new and substantial--the question instead is what to cut, and how. Granted, just being able to make the right cuts and creatively reorganize the state's finances would be a great achievement, and in an era of financial retrenchment it could provide a resume to back national ambitions.
But more is wanted, and more is probably needed. And the great thing about reforming the process is that it doesn't cost a lot of money--sometimes it doesn't cost a penny. Even a public-financing scheme for elections is small beer compared against Medicaid or school funding.
Also, don't forget that the national desire to see Washington change its ways put a lot of the wind in Barack Obama's sails in 2008--and the perceived failure to deliver on that hope turned into a gale-force gust in the mid-term "shellacking." A governor who could show that he or she actually helped to change the way a state's political system worked would really have something to brag about in a presidential campaign. And a State Senate majority that was able to deliver on political reform would mark itself as a new and fresh element in state politics.
Everyone wins on this one. It could happen.
Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.
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