The second Wednesday in January the Governor presents his State of the State address. For decades governors stood in the ornate Assembly chamber and presented the address to a joint meeting of the Assembly and the Senate and a few hundred invited guest.
Governor Cuomo, initially to the distress of the state legislators moved the speech to the convention center with a few thousand invited guests – rather than a report to the legislators the governor announced the speech was an address to the people of the State of New York.
Three years later the governor began his speech with lengthy praise for the hundred and fifty members of the Assembly and the sixty-three members of the Senate.
The newly elected legislative bodies have more new members than in anyone’s memory.
Over the next two years over 10,000 bills will be introduced, about 500 will become law. The Democrats increased their overwhelming majority in the Assembly and the Senate will be jointly led by the Republicans and the five members of the Independent Democratic Conference.
State of the State speeches are lists – appeals to every nook and cranny of the state – especially upstate – the vast reaches of the state that have been devastated by the loss of industry over the past thirty years. Governor after governor has promised a revival for the isolated, poor rural communities across the state as well as the decaying cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and other smaller cities in which industry and jobs have fled.
The couple of thousand in the audience represented staff, guests of the electeds and the governor – including lobbyists who represent business and labor, upstate and downstate, for-profit and not-for-profit sectors.
The Governor’s educational initiatives were basically a few sections from the recently released Cuomo Commission Report as well as a few of the priorities from the Board of Regents.
Full day pre-K classes in poorer, or to use the words of the Governor, “distressed” areas would be strongly supported by legislators in impacted areas – others would fear the dollars would come from their districts. The same with Community Schools, schools with “wraparound” services – the full range of medical and social services – once again – new money or a redistribution of current funds?
Extended school day and/or school year programs are a cost issue: will the state permanently support or provide a grant for a limited period of time, and, current or new dollars?
The “bar-type exam” for prospective teachers brought smiles from the old timers – sounds like the old Board of Examiners, created at the beginning of the last century to avoid political hiring and ended by a discrimination lawsuit in the early seventies.
The Governor prodded the 1% of districts who do not have a completed teacher evaluation plan, by number of teachers, more like 40% – including NYC and Buffalo.
The gubernatorial aspirational laundry list was very long – and very ambitious.
Part of the list is preparation for 2016, if the Governor decides to run for president, a first-in-the-nation Women’s Equity Law and the strongest gun control laws in the nation would stake out space for the governor.
As the assembled masses moved into the Speakers Reception the legislators and guests seemed to agree, the Governor’s best speech; however, speeches are easy – accomplishments are hard.
As we walked from the Legislative Office Building (LOB) to the convention center everyone had to pass a gauntlet of hundreds and hundreds of anti-fracking folk – with signs and chants and costumes, an example of a contentious issue- not mentioned by the governor.
Next Tuesday, the lobbyists both paid and citizens trying to influence the process will descend on the Capital, and will continue each and every week until the legislature adjourns in mid-June.
Editorial writers bemoan the chaos and dysfunction in Albany, actually the bickering and dueling and occasional back-biting amidst the flow of folks from around the state is the essence of a democracy.
James Madison in Federalist # 10 wrote,
The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.
On a Tuesday in February or March the teachers union, the UFT, will bring hundreds of union members up to Albany to meet with their local elected to plead their case for the issue of the moment. I would enlist kids in my class, a research project, and have the kids make the presentation, and we’d track the progress of our efforts.
Too many of us throw up our hands, and leave the dirty work of prodding and becoming part of the process to others.
My advice: get dirty.
Join your local political club, send emails to your local elected, and visit them in their local office, volunteer in a campaign,
To quote Madison, we may be, “…much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good,” it is our nature, the fight is worth it.
Listen to Paul Robeson singing “Joe Hill” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8Kxq9uFDes) and take his advice.