The new co- leader of the Senate, Senator Jeff Klein, says he knows the new coalition of five Democrats and 30 Republicans will have to prove itself in the coming months and deliver on key pieces of legislation, but he says they stand a better chance of success than if just the Democrats alone were in charge of the Senate.
Senator Klein says when the Democrats were in power in the Senate in 2009 and 2010, they failed to pass legislation on many issues important to Democrats, including same sex marriage and independent redistricting.
Klein, who was Deputy Senate Majority Leader at the time, says the infighting got “personal” and he wants to move beyond that. Though he still has some harsh words for some of his former Senate Democratic Colleagues.
“There’s some in that conference, and it’s a very small group, that are not serious about governing,” Klein said. “They make everything personal. They make everything an affront.”
Klein says Senate Republicans reached out to his Independent Democratic Conference to form the joint coalition government. He says the rest of the Democrats did not.
The new governing coalition includes just one African American and no Hispanics, prompting criticism from, among others, the Reverend Al Sharpton and NAACP President Hazel Dukes.
Senator Klein, who says he respects Reverent Sharpton and has even joined him in past civil rights protests, says blacks and Hispanics aren’t being left out, and they are free to join the new coalition.
“The Independent Democratic conference is not an exclusive club,” Klein said. “It’s open to anyone who’s serious about governing.”
Reverend Sharpton wants more committee posts given to Senators of color, Klein says it’s not about that.
“There’s more to governing than committee posts,” he said.
Klein says he hopes the new coalition will ultimately be judged on policy, by passing bills to reform New York City’s Stop and Frisk law, which critics say unfairly burdens young African Americans, and by passing a bill known as the Dream Act. It would allow children of undocumented immigrants to go to college.
Senator Ruben Diaz says any claims by the IDC that they are not engaged in a power grab is “baloney”.
“ You care about yourselves ,” said Diaz. “Just admit it.”
Senator Diaz was a member of the self titled “Four Amigos”. The four Senators in late 2008 formed a faction within the then newly elected Majority Party Democrats, and demanded leadership and committee posts to expand their influence. Diaz says the IDc members are “copycats”, but he says what they are trying to do is “a lot worse” than what the Amigos did.
Senator Klein disputes that.
“We want to be powerful,” Klein says. “But we want to be powerful in determining a legislative agenda.”
Governor Cuomo has said he will judge the coalition on policy, not on the Senate’s internal politics. Cuomo wants them to act on a number of progressive bills, including raising the minimum wage and campaign finance reform, measures that the governor has called a “litmus test”. If they can’t pass those bills, then Cuomo says the coalition will have “failed”.
Full interviews with Senators Jeff Klein and Ruben Diaz can be seen on New York State PBS’s New York Now this weekend, check local listings for times.