Every once in a while, usually after a series of public scandals, some good government group or other advances the idea of term limits. The logic is simple. Absolute power, which can come with seniority, corrupts. It takes new people years to learn crooked ways.
But corruption is only one facet of what is a complex question.
Back in 1991, the well-respected and reform-minded local League of Women Voters studied term limits, and to the surprise of some good government types, rejected the idea.
The logic, according to current LVW President Dare Thompson of Milton, was simple enough. “We do not believe we should be taking choice away from voters,” she said.
In other words, if people named Larkin, Bonacic, Cahill, Schumer or Provenzano have been in office longer than your kids have been in school, so what? If voters, enlightened or otherwise, keep returning them to office, that’s their choice.
The LWV alternative to term limits, suggested Thompson, “is an informed electorate.”
Hmm. Informed electorate suggests engaged electorate, which should translate into higher participation. That’s not happening in states which have established term limits on their legislatures like California, Florida and Ohio. In fact, LWV surveys indicate that voting participation has actually declined. People tend to vote for people they think they know, if they vote at all. The surveys also discerned a shift in power from all those new legislators to lobbyists, government bureaucracy and the executive branch.
Last Saturday, the League of Women Voters held a regional meeting in Poughkeepsie to discuss term limits. No consensus was reached. There was talk of a state constitutional convention, which if authorized by the legislature could take place in 2017. That might be the best venue to discuss this most fundamental question. Keep in mind that behind every complex question usually lurks a simple solution … that doesn’t work.
I caught only an hour or so of Mayor Shayne Gallo’s fourth Mayor’s Message at the city hall last week, which ran on to an unofficial hour and 44 minutes. For sure, there was plenty of grist. “I have rarely seen a speaker with such in-depth knowledge of so many subjects,” one of the barking seals in attendance gushed afterwards. He could have added, “… Again and again on the same subjects.”
There’s a saying in our business that anybody can write long, but it takes real talent to write short. If only Gallo could channel Lincoln.
I didn’t take notes, but it sounded like the mayor was offering an olive branch to former mayor and designated punching bag Jim Sottile. Or was it a fig leaf? Gallo was certainly grateful to County Executive Mike Hein for establishing an annex to the community college at the former Sophie Finn grade school in Midtown and for the veterans’ homeless shelter downtown, though continually calling him “Mr. Hein” came across to me as subservient. What Gallo may not appreciate is that Hein needs him almost as much as he needs Hein in this election year.
Channel 6’s Liz Benjamin‘s review of what she called “this historic week in Albany” featured footage of a lonely former speaker Sheldon Silver shuffling to the last seat in the lower chamber just before his successor was sworn in. Silver, after nodding to the assemblywoman seated next to him (no doubt a freshman), was about to sit down when the camera caught the back of a portly grey-haired man in a tight-fitting suit approaching Silver to shake his hand.
“Hey,” I said to my cat Mickey, recalling Norm the barfly’s observation on the TV sitcom Cheers that you’re really famous when people recognize you from behind, “Isn’t that Kevin Cahill?”
And so it was. Cahill, one of a handful of Silver loyalists, was the only one, he said, to greet the exiled leader at his new seat in the Assembly doghouse. Silver’s swift decline from powerful speaker to backbench chump again demonstrates, as Donald Trump once told his chauffeur, how close the back seat of the limousine is to the front.
I later suggested to Cahill that in this instance his loyalty might have been misplaced. Cahill, a non-practicing lawyer, reiterated that his several readings of federal charges of bribery and influence peddling against Silver “do not indicate criminal acts to me.” Given the wheels of justice, it could be two years before that verdict is in.
For anyone with roots in the Hudson Valley and especially for newcomers, Vernon Benjamin’s The History of the Hudson Valley from Wilderness to the Civil War is more than a must-read. I predict it will go down in history as one of the region’s most authoritative reference books.
I’ve known Benjamin, man and boy, for decades, beginning with his service as a Maurice Hinchey staffer in the ’70s. He has also been a Saugerties town supervisor and a county legislator from Saugerties. A few years ago he served on a committee that oversaw legislative reapportionment in Ulster County.
In terms of a region discovered by Europeans more than 300 years ago and inhabited by native Americans perhaps 10,000 years before that, all that background comes under the heading of current events. Benjamin takes readers every step of the way back, yea, even back to the Hudson Valley’s geological formation. It’s fascinating stuff, full of intriguing characters and events. It’s also well-written. Some 45 pages of source material testify to the amount of research involved in this 15-year effort, during which one assumes Benjamin had a day job.
Being something of a homey, I would have liked a few more pages on the burning of Kingston. But Benjamin’s accounts of Revolutionary War and Civil War battles and politics more than made up for it.
The widely acclaimed 560-page book, dedicated to the region’s great historian Alf Evers (1905-2004), is now in its second printing.
Bravo, Vernon Benjamin. I can’t wait for the sequel.
Here and there
How about Tiger Woods’ explanation for his latest withdrawal from a golf tournament after only eleven holes? “Couldn’t fire my glutes,” he told reporters, explaining the pain in his surgically repaired lower back. I don’t doubt some attendees at this year’s mayor’s message had the same sensation when they stood up.
Congressman Chris Gibson is sure to get questions on his political future when he addresses Orange County Republicans at their annual Valentine’s Sweetheart’s Brunch in Middletown this Sunday. But not just about governor. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is also up for re-election in 2018. Appointed to the office to replace Hillary Clinton in 2009, Gillibrand, a member of Congress from Greenport, was elected to a two-year Senate term in 2010 and then breezed (72 percent) to a full six-year term two years later.
A Gibson-Gillibrand race would set up a rare upstate-versus-upstate match that could give the Republicans a chance of success.