New York State Senate Slips To Republicans Via Coalition With Independent Democrats

Independent Democrats Ally With Republicans To Take New York Senate

WASHINGTON -- New York's state Senate will be run by a coalition of Republicans and Independent Democrats after election results had initially left Democrats with a slim majority in the 63-seat chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) announced Tuesday afternoon that the two groups have formed a coalition to govern the Senate for the next two years. The agreement includes power for both Skelos and Klein to set the Senate agenda, as well as having the two alternate in the post of Senate temporary president every two weeks. Klein had indicated last week that he was open to a power-sharing agreement with Republicans.

The Albany Times-Union reported from the statement released by Skelos and Klein:

Under the unprecedented agreement, the Independent Democratic Conference will be formally recognized as a third, permanent Senate conference. Senator Klein and Senator Skelos will assume the roles of Conference Leader for their respective conferences and will administer joint and equal authority over (1) the daily senate agenda (a/k/a the "Active List," which lays out which bills will be voted on each day, (2) the state budget, (3) appointments to state and local boards, and (4) leadership and committee assignments for their respective conferences. Under the agreement, coalition leaders will need to work together to lead the Senate forward. The new agreement will also provide for a process by which the title of Temporary President will alternate between the two conference leaders every two weeks. Therefore, the role of the temporary president will be constitutionally fulfilled at all times.

The temporary president's office is a constitutional post whose occupant serves as acting governor if Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy (D) are both absent from the state.

Election results had given Democrats 32 seats in the chamber with two contests still undecided, but with Democrats leading in one and competitive in the other. After the election, Sen.-elect Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) announced that he would caucus with Senate Republicans. Klein's move on behalf of his five-member conference cements the Democrats' status as the minority conference in the Senate. Democrats previously held control of the Senate in 2009 and 2010.

Klein formed the IDC in 2011 along with Sens. David Valesky (D-Oneida), Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown), saying Democrats had mismanaged the Senate during the two-year period. The four IDC members received committee chairmanships from the GOP. The Democratic majority in the state Senate has had defections before, as in the 2009 Senate coup, when two renegade Democrats joined Republicans to give the GOP control temporarily of the chamber.

The IDC grew Tuesday morning when Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) announced he was joining the conference. Smith had been ousted as Senate majority leader during the 2009 coup. Smith is considering a 2013 bid for New York City mayor as a Republican.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, a Washington, D.C.-based group that works to elect Democrats to state legislatures, said that the six Democrats will need to explain themselves to voters who favored Democratic "values" in the legislature. "The people in New York voted overwhelmingly for Democrats to represent them in the legislature," DLCC spokesman Daniel Roth told HuffPost. "This gamesmanship goes against the voters of New York. Ultimately they will have to go back to their districts and explain themselves."

Nationally, Democrats had touted the party's apparent win of the Senate following the election. Cuomo has been criticized by progressive leaders in recent weeks, who have said that he did not do enough for elected Democratic senators. Cuomo also endorsed several Republican senators who backed his push for same-sex marriage in New York.

Klein was not immediately available for comment for this article.

UPDATE: Dec. 5 -- The IDC-Republican Senate coalition is being challenged by progressive leaders in New York. Dan Cantor, the executive director of the New York State Working Families Party, released a statement Tuesday challenging Klein to deliver a progressive agenda with Republican leaders.

Cantor said:

Today’s news puts the progressive agenda in jeopardy.

On Election Day, New Yorkers made their voices heard for a Democratic-Working Families majority because of the issues that hang in the balance in Albany. Public financing of elections. Women's health. Reforming stop and frisk. Raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation. A real DREAM Act.

These are not trivial issues. Senator Klein has voiced support for them in the past, but his Republican partners stand against us on each one. The burden therefore rests on the shoulders of Senator Klein and the IDC to prove that they can deliver. If they can, then this coalition may yet be validated. But if they cannot, then we will hold them to account.

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