The Assembly and Senate leadership scandals have obviously rocked Albany by producing high drama and changes in who holds the reins of power in both houses. However, this legislative session may go down in history as a time that ushers in even greater long term reform. That is still unclear and we are in the midst of a decisive moment about which way our state and system of government goes. In the halls of the Capitol the talk is about whether there are more shoes to drop from Preet Bharrara.
For far too long, the political system in Albany has made a mockery of representative democracy. As the scandals uncovered by the Moreland Commission and the media have shown, wealthy interests have set out to influence and control the outcomes of elections and legislation and the leaders have put a “for sale” sign on the Capitol and allowed it to happen. Senior citizens and nonprofit organizations don’t have political action committees to try to influence elections. What we are seeing in terms of spending though is well beyond the normal political action committee. Investigations have shown a large number of secret committees set up through loopholes that funnel cash to support their interests whether they be real estate or the privatization of education.
If the end result of the current scandals is to begin to produce changes that close these loopholes and make donors have to identify themselves rather than hide behind a smokescreen web of shell organizations, then change may finally come to Albany. What these scandals have also done is unmask the rigged money game that has contributed to the increasing economic inequality in New York and in other states. The investigations and prosecutions are continuing at the same time as those on the low end of the economic ladder are demanding greater equity and fairness. The push to raise the minimum wage has gained traction as not just a matter of fairness, but also an effort by government leaders to end the subsidies public programs must provide to large corporations which underpay their workers.
These reforms may be the real history of our time. However, powerful interests will always exist and fight back. Why though is it strange and unusual that the public should demand that every legislator represent the people they serve first not their donors and that every piece of legislation should be based on the legislator’s view of its merits for their constituents and the state itself, not by the amount of campaign cash their vote might produce? Why is that form of democracy not followed?
History has clearly shown that democracy only works when the people work at it and there are times when we have to fight harder for the representative democracy that was intended when this country was founded. It is time for New York and America to “live out the true meaning of its creed,” as Dr. Martin Luther King said.