11 December 2015

Two-and-a-half Men in a Room; bipartisan corruption in New York State

The other shoe dropped this afternoon when Dean Skelos, the former Majority Leader of the Republican controlled New York State Senate, was convicted, along with his son, of abusing his power by intimidating businesses with business before the legislature into giving favors -- in one case specifically giving Skelos the Younger a do-nothing job -- in return for favorable treatment. This verdict follows closely the conviction of Sheldon Silver, the former Speaker of the Democratic controlled New York State Assembly, for similar abuses of power. Had federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, who built the case against both men, not been born in India, people would probably run him for President. He has give us the truth as plain as possible: both major political parties in the United States are capable of corruption. No ideology immunizes either party from the temptations of power, though Tea Partiers may argue, probably with some truth, that Skelos was not their kind of Republican. Their turn will come just the same. You'd think these trials would convince New Yorkers to rally around a third party or create one, but there's really no guarantee that independents won't exploit their power the same way. To some extent power, the specific power of those who wield the legislative gavel, is the real problem. Speakers and Leaders have the power to advance or delay consideration of bills on no more than whim. Legislative bodies may need some kind of traffic cop to establish a schedule of hearings, debates and votes, but just as the Speaker of the House of Representatives often lets others literally wield the gavel while he has other things to do, so perhaps no one person should play that traffic-cop role for an entire legislative term. If parties really control legislatures, let them delegate a new person on a monthly or weekly basis to be Speaker or Leader. That way, at least, legislators are less likely to shakedown businesses or lobbyists, or the latter would be less inclined to bribe the former, since no one legislator could make a promise and assume that the person playing traffic-cop next week would abide by it. Maybe that would only shift the focus of corruption to the halls of party leadership, but it might teach people a further lesson to see a party chairman taken on the perp walk. Whatever happens, the answer definitely isn't to hope for good men to take office. Much of American government, for long-term good or ill, is designed to thwart corruptible or ambitious officeholders, so a radical revamp of the legislative process, leaving us without The Speaker or The Leader, would only be consistent with our founding ideas.

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