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March was a lucky month for the Senate Republicans, who hold the majority in that chamber by just one vote.
First, they were permitted to draw the new Senate district lines in a manner widely viewed as favorable to the GOP, after Governor Andrew Cuomo backed off on a threat to veto what he said were “hyper political, hyper partisan lines.” In exchange, the governor convinced lawmakers to agree to change the redistricting process next time, ten years from now, which could be several political lifetimes away.
Then, the budget was approved on time, a day early even, and Senate Republicans cooperated with Cuomo on several other items, including pension reform, during an all night session in mid-March. The continued positive alliance with the extremely popular Democratic governor in a blue state could only raise the Senate Republicans status.
The mutual good will between Cuomo and Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos was evident at a ceremonial budget bill signing where the two laughed and joked, and exchanged effusive compliments.
“Governor, we thank you for your great leadership,” Skelos said.
Cuomo, in return, praised Skelos and said he’s pleased that state government can function in a bi-partisan fashion, an unusual circumstance on the national level these days.
“This is not a Democratic budget or a Republican budget,” said Cuomo. “I salute the Senate Majority Leader for his leadership.”
After the remarks, several GOP Senators at the event lined up to have their photographs taken with the Governor, Senator Skelos, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Cuomo also gave Senate Republicans another mini boost, when he decided to take his proposal for health exchanges out of the budget. The exchanges are required under the federal health care reform act, but some GOP Senators voiced concern about associating themselves with what opponents call Obamacare. The governor decided to issue an executive order instead.
Senator Skelos has said repeatedly in recent weeks that he is very pleased with his working relationship with the governor. At the bill signing he said, "that represents a big change from the past dysfunction."
“When he talked about meshing things together, it used to be messing things together,” Skelos said. “And now, we are functioning in a very, very positive way.”
Senate Democrats, in the minority party were reduced to sputtering from the sidelines. Minority Democratic Senate Leader John Sampson was one of only two Senate Democrats to attend the bill signing ceremony, but he was not permitted to appear at the podium with Cuomo and the majority party legislative leaders, and had to sit in the audience instead.
The Senate Democrats relationship with Governor Cuomo had begun to deteriorate earlier, when Cuomo allowed the redistricting plan that favored Republicans to sail through the legislature.
Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens, expressed his frustration on the Senate floor, saying GOP lawmakers could take their redistricting plan and “shove it.”
Democrats then boycotted the rest of the voting, including bills Cuomo had championed to expand the states DNA data base and to create a new public worker benefit tier.
The behaviors spurred memories of the rocky two years when Democrats did control the Senate from 2008 until 2010, which featured numerous indictments, convictions and a coup that led to a month long gridlock in the chamber.
In an interview with the Buffalo News, Senate Minority Leader Sampson was asked whether he thought Governor Cuomo wants Democrats to be able to take control back of the Senate in November.
“You’ll have to ask the Governor,” Sampson said.
Cuomo was asked, by a reporter at the budget signing ceremony, whether he would support Senator Skelos to continue as majority leader of a Republican led Senate after the November elections, Cuomo did not say no, only that it was still too soon to talk about politics, with several months of the legislative session remaining.
“We’ll get to politics later in the year,” said Cuomo.
But Cuomo, through his recent actions, might not have to get involved in the political season, in order to influence their outcome, after all.