Tag Archives: The Federalist # 51

The New York State Legislature, Charter Schools and the “Big Ugly:” A Lesson in Civics (aka, Realpolitics)

Realpolitics: political realism or practical politics especially based on power as well as on ideals.

Why is politics so contentious? Why can’t people get along? Why is everything so partisan?

I can also ask why don’t Mets and Yankee fans get along. Giant and Jets fans?

Politics is contentious, sports are contentious, factions are part of human nature and factions can be passionate.

In Federalist # 10 Madison wrote,

AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice

 Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

 Madison acknowledges that factions are at the heart of a democracy,

 Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.

Faction, while at the heart of a democracy, can be destructive, one remedy, autocracy, destroys democracy.

We should be teaching students that ideals should drive policy; however, different people have different ideals and different paths to achieving their goals. Passion can be constructive or destructive.

New York State politics is contentious: Republicans versus Democrats, the governor versus the legislature, and Democrats versus Democrats; to the average voter the process seems frustrating, partisan and driven by lobbyist dollars.

The New York State legislature is in the home stretch with a crowded agenda. The legislature meets from January till mid June with two key periods, the days leading up to the April 1 budget deadline and the last few days of the session, referred to as “The Big Ugly,” the last few days when “this” is traded for “that,” For decades, with a brief interlude, Republicans have controlled the Senate and Democrats the Assembly. For twelve years a Republican sat in the governor’s perch (Pataki) and the last eight years Andrew Cuomo. The “three men in a room” made the deals. At the budget deadline the leverage was with the governor and he crammed in whatever he could, the courts granted the governor wide discretion in establishing budget parameters. (Read here).

Prior to the 2018 election Republicans controlled the Senate, and, in the final days, of the budget or the end of session, the “big ugly,” the Republicans used their leverage to pass charter friendly legislation, for example, in exchange for extending mayoral control in New York City. The charter school political committees (PACs) pumped dollars into key races, the Republicans won and “returned the favor.”

In the November, 2018 elections the Democrats swept Republican seats, the very seats that received support from the charter school PACs.

The leverage moved from the Republicans to the Democrats.

The key charter school issue is the charter cap in New York City. The law sets a cap on the number of charter schools and the cap has been reached

The City and State website  speculates over whether the governor supports raising the cap.

… the [charter school PACs] long-standing allies in the state Senate Republican conference are out of power; Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently revived the issue. “We support raising this artificial cap,” Rich Azzopardi, the governor’s spokesman, told the New York Post in mid-April. “But the Legislature needs to agree as well.”

Despite Cuomo’s support, charter school proponents face resistance from teachers unions and many Democratic lawmakers who want to leave the cap unchanged. The issue is “not even on the radar screen,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said recently, according to North Country Public Radio.

Within the last few days the New York State of Politics blog quotes the governor as outlining 10 issues for the end of session and charter schools are not among his priorities.

The leverage has shifted.

An election two weeks ago for a vacant City Council seat may bear on Albany politics. Interim elections to fill vacant seats are non-partisan, no party designations, and New York City matches contribution 8 to 1 .

In an election with numerous candidates the UFT, the teacher union supported a candidate. Farrah Louis who was not favored; however, her educational positions were in line with the positions of the union. She defeated a candidate endorsed by the former City Council member, Jumaane Williams, who is snow the Public Advocate.

The “lesson” is not lost; fighting with the union will have consequences.

Not only will the charter school cap not be lifted it is possible legislation hostile to charter schools may be folded into the “big ugly.”

A few bills dealing with the reauthorization of charter schools and the auditing of charter schools have just been introduced.

Factions will advocate, seek allies, lobby electeds and as the adjournment date, June 19th approaches totally disparate bills will be linked, factions will find “friends,” at least for the moment.

Elections have consequences, charter PAC dollars “elected” Republicans who used their leverage to pass charter friendly legislation; an election cycle later Democrats defeated the charter PAC endorsed candidates, elections have consequences, the leverage switched, and, we can expect that legislation more friendly to teacher unions and public school advocates may become law.

Madison reminded us governmental systems must control themselves, and competing factions are a control.

“It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices [checks and balances] should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

 Ideals, factions and politics and  are part of our contentious democracy.

Albany. Teacher Evaluation, Cuomo. Seeming Chaos and the Heritage of James Madison

Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made. Otto von Bismarck

Thousands upon thousands of emails, texts, tweets; hundreds of visits, scores of demonstrations and rallies all challenging decisions of the governor. Millions of dollars funneled into the governor’s campaign, each day the tension builds towards decisions on teacher evaluation, tenure, “receivership’ and school aid.

It all seems chaotic and confusing, and James Madison would be smiling.

The “chaos” in Albany is the essence of democracy, the rough and tumble of politics was described by Madison as “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” exactly how decisions should be made. Madison, in Federalist # 51 wrote,

… the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions (Federalist # 51, 2/6/1788)

Yes, men are not angels.

The Democratic controlled Assembly, the Republican controlled Senate and the governor are jousting. The “public” casting arrows at the governor, the governor defending, deals offered, rejected, with a ticking clock.

Carl Heastie, the newly elected Speaker of Assembly meets with his members before and/or after each session, called “conference.” The speaker takes the “temperature of his members.” Under his predecessor, Sheldon Silver, the conference was pro forma, Silver ruled with an iron fist, any disloyalty. or perceived disloyalty was treated with retribution. Heastie, on the other hand, has been open to his members. The dumping of two long time incumbent regents and the election of four new regents clearly was the will of local members of the Assembly.

At the Monday conference a proposed teacher evaluation plan, referred to as a “matrix” was discussed and looked upon with suspicion by the members. On Tuesday a new plan, a six member committee, two each appointed by the governor, the Assembly and the Senate, and reporting back by June 1st, all state aid would be held up until the committee reports. Thursday a plan to turn the creation of a new teacher evaluation plan over to the Regents.

And probably new “concepts” coming fast and furious as we move toward the March 31 end of the fiscal year.

State aid could be held hostage until teacher evaluation is resolved. As the governor’s popularity rating continues to tank the legislators are more emboldened.

Perhaps members will have an opportunity to run home Sunday, do laundry and run back for the Monday through Aril 1 almost round the clock sessions.

If the factions cannot reach a budget by April 1 the governor can take the nuclear option, issue “emergency budget extenders” and force through his budget. See the background on the extender option here
and the current Cuomo “threats” here.

The extender option would be declaring war on the legislature and with a falling popularity rating the extender option, if popular with the public could revive his reputation or sink him to the depths.

I am asked “Aren’t the Republicans on the governor’s side?” Yes, the Republicans support charter schools, as long as they’re not in their districts; however the Republicans need the Democrats on the issue of “ethics,” a rather obtuse term. The key factor is a limitation on outside income, Many in the Republican leadership retain high-paying jobs as lawyers, and some may have “Shelly Silver ” problems. The Republicans need the Democrats to avoid being squeezed by the governor.

All sides need an artfully crafted solution that will allow everyone to claim “victory.” The Governor, the Assembly, the Senate, the teacher union and the public, all must appear to have saved face and come away with a piece of the pie.

It is rare to be able to claim victory while holding the still warm heart of your enemy over your head, although when Shelly Silver was led away in handcuffs it was the gratifying equivalent.

I was arguing a grievance before an arbitrator, while I knew I was right the Department was arguing the grievance was untimely, they would agree they were wrong, they would not agree to back pay.

A light bulb flashed! I convinced the arbitrator, and eventually the Department to put days into the grievant’s absent teacher reserve that equaled the value of the lost salary. The Department didn’t have to write a check and the grievant received a remedy that probably exceeded the actual back pay. A win-win.

Can the contending sides craft a “win-win”?

For Madison the essence of government: In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government.

Ultimately the labyrinth that are the halls of Albany will be mastered by the people. That is the magnificent beauty that our founding father left to us to cherish and defend.