On Monday under the cover of a federal holiday, the day after New Year’s, Sen. Jeff Klein (D?-Bronx, pictured) bravely made official by press release what everyone already knew–he and his Independent Democratic Conference will be conferencing with Senate Republicans.
This despite the fact that Senate Republicans backed Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant, and wholly racist agenda wholeheartedly.
Klein damaged the ability of Senate Democrats to win a majority during the primaries this year when he bankrolled the candidacy of Marisol Alcantara, thereby winning her loyalty to the IDC and taking away what had been a safe Democratic seat.
So now with Trump as president, threatening the values most New Yorkers hold dear, Klein is jumping back into bed with Republicans–saying in his press release, “The Independent Democratic Conference is joining this majority coalition because, as pragmatic progressives, we know how important it is to engage and get things done.”
“This bipartisan coalition will represent every county across New York, ensuring that every New Yorker has a voice in the Senate.”
Klein’s decision was made easier thanks to Sen. Simcha Felder (D?-Brooklyn) who conferences directly with the GOP despite his Democratic registration.
The IDC and Felder are effectively disenfranchising millions of black, Latino and Asian voters in the districts represented by Democratic Senators who actually bother to caucus with the party they registered with. So instead of those voices, a lot fewer people will be represented by their white, male, middle-aged Republican Senator. Klein and Felder have ensured diverse voices are not heard in New York.
Why? Klein wants to be in charge. This has been clear for over a decade now. When he was rejected as leader of the Senate Democrats in 2009 he threw a tantrum and left to create his own party. He then promptly allied his new party with Senate Republicans in exchange for some say, policy, nicer offices than minority members would typically get and more cash for staffers.
His reasoning for the move has shifted over the years. At one point it was about fighting corruption and dysfunction present in the Senate Democratic conference. He even kept up that tune when one of his own conference members, Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) was convicted of trying to bribe his way on to the Republican mayoral ticket in NYC. Klein finally dropped it when former Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was indicted on multiple corruption charges by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. He’s also touted his desire to reform Albany as a reason to pair with Senate Republicans, and yet Senate Republicans have stood opposed to banning outside income for legislators, reforming campaign finance laws and enacting public financing of campaigns–things Klein has said he wants to do.
Actions speak louder than words. Yes, last year Senate Republicans worked with Cuomo to pass a minimum wage increase and a paid family leave policy that Klein and the IDC supported. But times have changed, the state could face devastating cuts under Trump, it could face drastic shifts in immigration policy and federal positions on environmental protection and business regulations. Senate Republicans aren’t going to be motivated to stand up to Trump. Senate Democrats certainly would be, and if Klein could swallow his pride for two whole years and partner with Democrats to form a loyal opposition, he would probably come out politically stronger for it.
“Many IDC members are hard-working legislators who claim to share progressive values,” said Working Families Party state director Bill Lipton in a press release on Monday. “But they will be utterly discredited in their districts if they prop up a Republican majority that is unwilling to block Trump and instead will seek to further his agenda in New York.”
Lipton went on to say, “This is not a time for politicians to pat themselves on the back for making deals with Trump and his allies for a few concessions. Not when Trump and the Republicans are ready to roll back our rights and set fire to the constitution. This is the time for all leaders of conscience to unite around a progressive alternative to Trump’s dangerous and divisive agenda.”
Klein and his IDC members didn’t face any Democratic primaries last year. A number of insiders I asked at the time said they we’re hoping Klein would return to the Democratic fold in some form. “And what if he doesn’t?” I asked. “Then we’ll bury them in primaries in two years,” one source told me. It could be a long two years with Trump as president.
And of course Klein has escaped punishment from advocates and Senate Democrats in the past–because they are suckers. They hope every two years that Klein will see the light and return to the fold but they stammer and trip over themselves when they have to follow through. Part of that fearfulness is likely to do the perception that Klein is acting on the will of the Governor by strengthening his hand with the legislature.
Klein in turn is expected to be plotting a run for Attorney General or perhaps Governor. Voters are unlikely to forget that Klein allied himself with the Trump-supporting Senate Republicans should he ever to decide to feed his ego with such a run. And they shouldn’t–this should be a mistake that Klein can’t recover from. Let’s hope that voters in Bronx are paying attention.
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