June 24, 2009

No Time for Sergeants - the First Post-Penultimate Word on the A.D.D.D.D.A.

Hatched by Dafydd

I know I said the last post was the penultimate one on the subject of the Anti-Democratic Democrats' Denial of Democracy in Albany; but something so Kafkaesque has just happened in the New York State Senate that I cannot silently wait for the ultimate post... which will be the one where everybody's hash is finally settled. I am optimistic about much mirth and hijinks to ensue; I'm calling this the first post-penultimate word.

Our previous posts on this titillating topic are:

The current hilarity writes itself:

In Albany, Separate Senate Sessions for Each Party

Republicans and Democrats attempted to hold separate Senate sessions at the same time on Tuesday, leaving the Capitol in confusion and bickering as members of both parties shouted over each other on the Senate floor, and each party claimed it was in control.

Though Democrats had entered the Senate chamber through a back hallway just before 12:30 p.m. and locked the doors -- much to the surprise of Republicans -- Republicans moved ahead with plans for their own session and began calling for votes on bills as Democrats sat silent in protest.

Exactly who was in control of the Senate -- or whether any of the procedural action the Republicans had taken was legally valid -- was unclear. Democrats were successful in blocking Republicans from taking control of the Senate gavel, which remained firmly in the hands of Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester County, who was guarded by sergeants-at-arms on both sides.

The first point of puzzlement is why the sergeants-at-arms have sided with the Democrats... aren't they supposed to be neutral? How do they know which party legally controls the body? Are they lawyers? Have they even consulted with lawyers -- upon whose authority?

UPDATE, une 24th, 2000: Heh... that was how the story read yesterday; but today, the Times pulled another fast one: They jacked up the URL and ran a whole new story under it -- headline, body, page count, pocket change, blood chemicals, and all. Gone are the paragraphs quoted above, to be replaced by this:

Come to Order! Not a Chance, if It’s Albany

New York did not have one State Senate on Tuesday. It had two.

Democrats sneaked into the Senate chamber shortly after noon, seizing control of the rostrum and locking Republicans out of the room. Republicans were finally allowed to enter about 2:30 p.m., but when they tried to station one of their own members on the dais they were blocked by the sergeants-at-arms.

So then something extraordinary -- and rather embarrassing -- happened.

The two sides, like feuding junior high schoolers refusing to acknowledge each other, began holding separate legislative sessions at the same time. Side by side, the parties, each asserting that it rightfully controls the Senate, talked and sometimes shouted over one another, gaveling through votes that are certain to be disputed. There were two Senate presidents, two gavels, two sets of bills being voted on.

What is the point of such stealth-rewrites? They didn't make it any better for Democrats or harsher on Republicans... they just didn't like the first version (which can still be seen here), so they substituted a different one, with the same URL. Yeesh.

To serious-up for a moment, what I consider the most significant bill caught up in the maelstrom of madness -- a bill to legalize same-sex marriage throughout New York, the third-largest state in the United States -- might be doomed for this term. From a subsequent article in the Times:

Senators defied Gov. David A. Paterson on Wednesday and refused to take up any of the 10 issues he put on the schedule for a legislative session, indefinitely postponing votes on same-sex marriage and other signature items of the governor’s agenda....

Though gay rights supporters were initially pleased that the governor had placed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage on the agenda, many gay rights advocates were saying on Wednesday morning that they did not believe a vote would accomplish anything. There are myriad legal questions clouding any piece of legislation that the Senate takes up, and supporters of same-sex marriage are wary of seeing their issue turned into a political football.

“Nobody wants it to pass under a cloud, so it will be immediately subject to legal challenge,” said Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, a Democrat from the Upper West Side who sponsored the same-sex marriage bill that passed the Assembly last month. Even if the Senate did pass the bill the governor put on his agenda for Wednesday, and the legal issues were not so complicated, Mr. O’Donnell said same-sex marriage would still not be legal because the governor’s bill would have to be passed again by the Assembly.

The normal session expired in the middle of this month; depending on the outcome of the stalemate (I'm tempted to call it "Fool's Mate" instead), there may be insufficient time to bring up the same-sex marriage (SSM) bill before the expiration of the current "extraordinary session," called by N.Y. Gov. David Paterson. If it expires, and if Paterson does not call another, then I think the Senate is in recess until January... at least so the New York State Senate's own website seems to say.

Will there still be such impetus next year for jamming through such a fundamental change to a foundational insitution as marriage -- without any referendum of New Yorkers? I don't know; but at this point, those of us averse to monkeying with one of the foundations of Western civilization should be grateful for any delay we can get. Perhaps legislators will have an opportunity to think a second time, as Dennis Prager likes to say.

But back to whipping the cat in Albany! Let's run with both versions of the Times story; maybe by tomorrow, yesterday will have never happened at all.

We still have the same problem with the sergeants-at-arms siding with the Democrats -- the default-to-the-liberals favoritism found in Democratic states like New York. First the guards defended the "Democrats' gavel" against the rampaging Republicans, notwithstanding a 32 to 30 vote to oust former Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D). The same majority then elected Sen. Dean Skelos (R) majority leader and Sen. Pedro Espada (D) as president of the Senate; how can the sergeants unilaterally decide to abrogate that vote, "blocking Republicans from taking control of the Senate gavel?"

But then they did something even worse, discussed in detail in the first version of the story but only sketched in the second: When Majority Leader Skelos called Sen. George H. Winner, jr. to the podium... oh, but let the Times tell it in its original words, before editors decided to merely hint around the bush:

Shortly after Republicans walked onto the Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon, their leader, Dean G. Skelos, called the chamber to order and asked one of the Senate Republicans’ deputy leaders, George H. Winner Jr., to “take the podium.” Mr. Winner, who was standing at the front of the chamber, attempted to climb the stairs that lead to the podium where the presiding officer stands but was stopped by a Senate guard.

“Senator Skelos,” Mr. Winner responded, “I have been instructed by the sergeant-at-arms not to take the podium.” Mr. Winner then walked to a desk in front of the podium, called the Senate to order from there and began calling votes on a list of bills. Since Democrats sat silent and did not voice any objections, Mr. Winner claimed that each bill passed by a vote of 62 to 0.

So in addition to defending the Democrats' presumably inherent right to hold the gavel at all times, regardless of any organizing votes to the contrary, the sergeants also forcibly prevented a Republican senator from even approaching the podium -- because the Democrats didn't want him to be allowed to speak.

One final example deserves note of the sergeants abandoning their traditional role as neutral defenders of the peace -- in order to concentrate on their other traditional role as New York civil servants, that of being liberal Democratic partisans. In the original version:

Republicans seemed just as caught off guard as the rest of the Capitol when the Democrats came in at 12:30 p.m. As news of the Democrats’ move spread, some Republican staff members rushed to the Senate chamber and peered in through the windows to watch the Democrats congregating inside.

Senator Winner, a Republican from central New York, described the Democrats’ move as unnecessary and possibly against the law.

“It seems to me somewhat petulant and or illegal to lock the doors,” Mr. Winner said.

The outer doors to the chamber were kept locked by the sergeant-at-arms of the Senate, but some reporters were able to gain access through a back door.

The new version of the story makes clear that the Democrats snuck in alone -- and locked the doors against the Republicans. Thus, the sergeants-at-arms must have been holding the door against duly elected Republican state senators entering the state Senate chambers:

Democrats sneaked into the Senate chamber shortly after noon, seizing control of the rostrum and locking Republicans out of the room....

Early Tuesday, Republicans seemed as surprised as the rest of the Capitol when Democrats took over the chamber. Some Republican staff members rushed to the chamber to peek through small windows to watch the Democrats congregating. Some reporters were able to gain access to the locked chamber through the office of Mr. Espada, hurrying through a side room where Mr. Espada’s grandson was parked in front of a television, watching the Cartoon Network.

Note the curious omission of the fact that it was the sergeants who prevented Republican senators from entering the chamber (replaced by the reference to the Cartoon Network -- product placement, or do the Times editors simply have a "thing" for cartoons?) This fits in with the new version omitting the tidbit about sergeants jealously guarding the "Democrats'" gavel and brushing past the same sergeants preventing Sen. Winner from speaking from the podium. Could that be the reason for the rewrite -- to whitewash the complicity of the supposedly neutral guardians of the Senate in a partisan dispute against the GOP?

If so, what a sad and petty reason to engage in such an Orwellian rewrite of history. Times publisher "Pinch" Sulzberger should busy himself reading his Shelly; it may tell him some inconvenient truths about his own future and that of his family's media legacy:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert…. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, June 24, 2009, at the time of 5:39 PM

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The following hissed in response by: GW

You're having far too much fun with this . . . though it does make for some fine entertainment. Not to mention that any post where you can work in Shelly's Ozymandias is good stuff.

The above hissed in response by: GW [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 25, 2009 2:46 PM

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