First Unitarian Stands with Gay Couples

Well, I’m certainly glad Sarah and I got in early! We were married by Reverend Jenn of First Unitarian a few years back, and there may not be another marriage by that church for a while.

Channel 13 is reporting that the First Unitarian Church of Rochester has decided not to sign marriage licenses for straight couples in protest against New York’s ban on gay marriage. My first reaction to this is that it’s throwing the baby out with the bath water: if you stand on the side of love, how can you refuse to honor it where you can? But their explanation makes a whole lot of sense, at least to me:

More Work to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage –

Unitarian Co-Minister Scott Taylor compares it to the discrimination seen during the Civil Rights era.

“As ministers we were basically agreeing to serve the white-only counter for the state,” he said.

So, as hard as it is to think that this great church cannot do it’s work – what I think is the most important work a church can do, fostering love – the truth is that the law in this state makes that work impossible to do completely either way.  And as the article points out, there’s very little chance that the law will change any time soon.  The Republican Senate will not pass any law legalizing gay marriage, and while its not explicitly said in the article, I have my doubts as to whether the Democrats in Albany would be willing to risk the political exposure if ever they got the majority in the Senate.  Perhaps I’m just cynical, but based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think so.


New York Election Reform: Keeping the Conversation Going

I’ve recently been involved in a few lobbying efforts with Metro Justice for the Clean Money, Clean Elections campaign, and have gained some small amount of insight as to the state of affairs in Albany.  If you’re wondering why there’s been very little talk about public campaign financing on this site or others in New York, its because the conversation has run a bit dry in the absence of legislative movement, and legislative movement won’t happen until we turn over the state Senate.


Oh, About That Maggie Brooks “F.A.I.R.” Plan?

All of that genius fiscal planning Saggy Maggie did was predicated on the notion that New York State was planning on increasing funding to schools. Well, now there’s rumblings in Washington that this may not happen at all:

State budget ills put planned school aid hike at risk || Democrat & Chronicle: Local News

Spitzer and the Legislature earlier this year agreed to raise aid to local school districts by $1.1 billion this year, and $7.6 billion between last year and 2010.The second installment is due in the new fiscal year that begins April 1. But at a budget conference Tuesday, Francis and budget experts from the Senate, Assembly and state comptroller’s office agreed that state finances in the immediate future are shaky because of the recent Wall Street nosedive, the mortgage-lending crisis and the skyrocketing price of oil.

“When Wall Street gets a cold, New York state gets pneumonia,” said Francis, who pointed out that the state depends on the financial-services industry for about 20 percent of its tax revenue.

Have you signed the petition to end this debacle, yet? Can your kids afford you not to?

Wire New York

I’ve had a few too many things going on in the last month, and haven’t had the opportunity to give this bill the time and attention it deserves, but DragonFlyEye.Net is one more blog in New York asking its readers to please support the Brodsky telecom bill, currently being called “Wire New York.”

I’ve taken the opportunity to snag the snazzy graphic from Rochester Turning and Sayhar’s outstanding articles on the subject. It’s now featured prominently at the right of this blog. After all, if this website, one of whose features is an entire section dedicated to technology politics, cannot get behind this bill, who could?

This new bill goes light years beyond any other legislation in promoting the upstate economy by treating the Internet the way it should be viewed: as a key component of the state’s infrastructure, no less important that rail lines or highways. Providing adequate broadband coverage across the entire state means providing a source of revenue, communication, education and free speech, in equal and fair measure, across all segments of our state.

The bill also includes strong Net Neutrality language. The Net Neutrality issues is a complex one that tends to throw people off quite a bit. Go read Sayhar’s articles on the subject, they’re very good primers and include videos by the Save the Internet folks. The trick with NN in New York State is reach: companies who don’t reside in NYS don’t have to follow our rules of Net Neutrality. But the real reason for including such language is to force the issue on the national level, where it can do some real good. If we can get something like this passed in our dysfunctional parliamentary system, surely it can happen on the national level.

And so consider this the first of many appeals to please contact Governor Spitzer and tell him that spreading the prosperity of the Internet across our state is important to you. Tell him to support the Brodsky Telecom Bill today: 518-747-8390.

You’ll be hearing a lot more about Net Neutrality and the benefits of spreading the ‘Net around the state from this blog soon!

Look on the Bright Side, Ericka!

Ericka Rosenberg of WXXI seems to enjoy, like many commentators, having a bit of fun with Eliot Spitzer’s “Day One” dillio from the campaign.  They all gasp in feigned shock to discover that everything did not, in fact, change on day one.

But seriously, were you really so foolish as to have believed that *everything* was literally changing the moment Eliot Spitzer was sworn in?  Did anyone fall for that as a literal promise, or did most people take that to mean that the debate was going to change and that real changes might for once in New York’s history be possible?  If you knew *everything* was going to change the minute you elected a leader, wouldn’t that be dictatorship, and why would you have voted for that?

Don’t be silly.  Great to jab the current executive of the state, but let’s not lose our sensibilities.  And as Mrs. Rosenberg points out herself, there have been changes, albeit not of the earth-scorching variety:

Policy Wonk: Legislative Lessons for a New Governor

At least this year the leaders parted ways over genuinely important issues and each was forced to publicly state his position. In the past, Bruno has been able to sidestep the campaign-finance issue. This year, because of the high profile Spitzer put on the issue, Bruno had to confront it. Yes, he tried to brush it aside by saying voters don’t care how campaigns are financed, but he also had to employ the “campaign giving is free speech” argument to defend the high limits and loopholes in the law.

And oh, what a memorable collection of Bruno quotes it has been, eh?

While I’ve been critical of the governor’s style from time to time, the fact remains that, especially where Clean Money, Clean Elections is concerned, the dialogue in Albany has changed dramatically.  Inasmuch as talking about election and campaign finance reform won’t be all it takes, it is important to recognize that once an idea is planted in the minds of the body politic, some definitive answer to the question is inevitable.

What that answer will be remains open for debate.  The Citizen Action people are pushing hard to make sure that CMCE is the adopted standard in favour of Sheldon Silver’s ill-omened “partial financing” option.  Of course, Albany leaders can try to sit on this one as long as they can, like usual; silence is also an answer.

But Eliot Spitzer has done a great job changing the discussion in Albany, the rest is up to the activists to bring that message to the people and the people to Albany.

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Don’t Bother Challenging Sheldon Silver

Jay Gallagher paints an unvarnished picture of the power plays within the Democratic Party in Albany in his latest installment at the Democrat and Chronicle.  It almost doesn’t seem worth the trouble to label them “Democrats” or “Republicans” in Albany, just “Albaneers.”

There’s been a lot of talk about Richard Brodsky challenging Silver for the Assembly Speaker’s position.  But if that buzz was ever real, the quote below puts that all to rest quite nicely:

Assemblyman says buzz on bid to be speaker isn’t true || Democrat & Chronicle: Local News

“He’s clearly agitating for change,” one longtime colleague said of Brodsky. “But he knows there are consequences” to taking on Silver, who rebuffed a challenge to his leadership by then-Majority Leader Michael Bragman in 2000. Bragman, of Syracuse, was stripped of his power and didn’t run for re-election the next year.

The activities of Brodsky, 61, apparently haven’t flustered Silver, 63, who has been speaker for 13 years — the second-longest tenure of any speaker in history.

When asked if he was concerned that Brodsky might be trying to build support for a potential bid to become speaker, Silver said, “No.”

Whoa. Talk about your unapologetic display of power! Who does this remind you of? Well, if you’re a sci-fi geek like myself, maybe you recognize these guys?
Is This What Albany Looks Like?

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Live Blogging the Death of a Reform Bill

TAP’s Lipris was on-campus for the Reform Albany Day, an effort to bring some much-needed change to Albany. As if in answer to my recent post on the resistance to Spitzer’s reform, well, read on noble reader:

the albany project :: Legislature debating landmark reform bill?

It’s over. To quote Liz Krueger: “Bruno killed it”. The Assembly, it appears, had been willing to go along; but the reactionary neanderthals in the Senate, well, they like things just the way they are. Want reform? Overthrow the republican Senate majority in 2008.

Well, that does it for this round, anyway. What’s Spitz’s next move? One never knows, so stay tuned!

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Through the Metro Justice Clean Money, Clean Elections mailing list, I was alerted to this rather interesting article from the Albany Times Union concerning Eliot Spitzer’s proposed reforms on campaign contributions and the objections lining up against it.  It should come as a surprise to no one that there would be strong resistance to any reform of a system that keeps politicians employed for a life time.

However, you have to give them credit: you would think that, their positions assured after years and even decades of collecting campaign donors, Albany politicians wouldn’t be that good at making up creative excuses for their continued employment.  Ah, but there you would be dead wrong:

Campaign finance stirs opposition — Page 2 — Times Union – Albany NY

Canestrari, chairman of the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee the past decade, is one of several lawmakers briefed in recent days on the talks and opposed to across-the-board reduction of donation levels.

“I’m a firm believer of the two party system in our state and nation; it’s shown to be a model for the world,” Canestrari said.

What, dude, what?

More TAP “Selfish Reasons” for Legislative Reform

These articles are getting more and more interesting all the time.  TAP’s simonstl is putting together articles about legislative reform, each of which takes the issue up from a particular point of view.  It’s a great exercise in persuasive argument: putting yourself in someone else’s shoes as best you can to come up with the best reasons for them to support your cause.

Today’s serving is an unusual one.  Today, he’s tackling lobbyists and why they should support legislative reform.  That sounds nuts on the face of it, but when you read the article, you will find there are more surprising and persuasive arguments than you might have thought.  I did:

the albany project :: Lobbyists – Selfish Reasons to Support Reform

  • No more double standard. Today’s New York Times pointed out that lobbyists seem to be the only ones punished for violations – legislators get off with barely a slap on the wrist. I don’t think anyone – probably especially the lobbyists – thinks ethics enforcement should work that way.
  • More competition means better threats. Right now it looks like New York State lobbyists can only pursue legislators’ hearts with carrots – lots and lots of carrots. The leadership has pretty much the only sticks. In a reformed legislature, lobbyists could help take it to the voters when they don’t like a legislator’s views.

This is really quite brilliant.  Not being in Albany, it’s hard for me to say whether or not this is really a valid set of arguments for your average lobbyist.  On the outside looking in, however, the argument seems to be made fairly well that this reform is about letting in some competition.  That’s great news for the young bucks and the newbies, but not so much for the entrenched elite, which is exactly the same position we find ourselves in where legislators are concerned.

I’m going to fold this one because it’s getting long. . . . .


The TAP-opedia Project

Many of you have probably heard of TAP by now, The Albany Project. You may also have heard of their new project, the TAP-opedia, a Wiki of Albany lawmakers. I personally heard about it from NYCO and Well, I’m on board, now. I’ve setup two Rochester assemblyperson’s pages already, Joe Morelle and David Gantt. I’m already learning more and more about the State Legislature of which I have been, as previously stated, so piteously ignorant till now. I’m jumping in with both feet.
My one concern with the TAP-opedia is the way they’re currently gathering information on Assembly and Senate districts: they’re basically linking to the legislator’s New York government pages, the state government’s current map and then creating an individual legislator’s page in the Wiki. This is not only duplication of data, it’s also erroneous. The Wiki should include a page on each legislator and one on each district as two separate but related entities.

Hard though it may be to conceive at the moment, it is mathamatically possible for a democratically-held election in the State of New York to yield a winner other than the incumbent. Besides, people die from time to time. In those rare cases, what will they do with all that information gleaned over the decades of incumbency? Just get rid of it and start over with a new legislator? That is folly. What if you want to refer back to former legislators for historical perspective? This information is lost.

Moreover, there is room for a great deal of information about districts which would have no place on a page about a legislator, such as the voting, demographic and economic trends.

I have voiced this concern on the Wiki, but thus far, have not heard any response back yet. I am hoping someone over there is watching the NY LeftyBlogs feed and will respond back either there or here shortly.

But in the meanwhile, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. More information in one easily navigated place is a good thing for all of us concerned with New York politics. I’ve even created a new web badge for TAP-opedia, which you’re welcome to use if you collect those sorts of things:

TAP-opedia Badge Go a head and right-click it, select either “save as” and then upload it somewhere convenient, or if you have FireFox, select “copy image location” and use it where ever. I’ve also suggested that each legislator’s page conform to a specific format, for which I’ve created a template that you can view here.

Just a suggestion, but one way or another, I think that everyone interested in New York politics aught to get involved where ever possible in this project.


Upstate Opportunity Region? This is a Democrat?!?!?!?

Like most New Yorkers, I think, I’ve been woefully unobservant when it comes to the New York State Legislature.  I am paying much, much more attention these days, and promise to pass the benefits to the blogosphere, . . . such as they are.

But in reading an article on Spitzer’s newly-forming Upstate strategy, I was blown away by the following comment from a (nominal, at least) Democratic Assemblyman from Tonawanda:

Jobs at stake in state divide || Democrat & Chronicle: Business

Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Tonawanda, called last week for the creation of an “upstate opportunity region.” The goal: to direct state aid to parts of the region that fall below a series of predetermined economic indicators, such as job growth.

He believes that the Legislature should look at ways of easing the burden of certain laws on upstate businesses, such as one that imposes liability on employers for work-site falls from ladders or other lifts, regardless of circumstance.

That law “is an affordable luxury in downstate but it is a project killer upstate,” said Schimminger, who leads the Assembly’s committee on economic development. He says he believes the Legislature has the authority to write laws to apply in one part of the state over another, as it has done in the past with legislation affecting only cities of 1 million or more.

“We should treat upstate, however it is defined, differently from downstate,” Schimminger said.

Where do I even begin?  Have we not had enough of being Corporate America’s dirty little run-down tax shelter, already?  COMIDA has not convinced us of the need to find better ways to reform the state economy?  And how is forcing employers to take heed of safety concerns “an affordable luxury” of downstate?

Grrr. . .  Having spent much of my early adulthood working in factories, that last one really burns me up.  It’s the kind of thing where public ignorance is corporate bliss.

The fact of the matter is, safety is rarely a thing that can be legislated, rarely a thing in which a definable set of rules can be universally applied to all factories and all industries.  For this reason, Worker’s Comp cases can get quite complex and nasty, devolving into a “he said/they said” kind of situation.  There’s no “right way,” to have done whatever caused the accident.  There’s no “wrong way,” upon which to rest one’s case against the worker, and even if there is, there is always employer pressure compelling workers to do things they know are unsafe because “it needs to get done.”

Don’t believe me?  You’ve not worked in a factory.  Period.  Don’t bother to argue with me.

In that situation, the person who comes out best is the one with the better set of lawyers, and guess who that tends to be?  The worker?  Not unless they’re Union.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is an altruistic law, either: litigating Workers Comp claims is expensive for the state, and paying out on claims is even more expensive, so this is their way of making sure that employers feel some of that sting, too.

So, one way or another, these types of laws force employers to be more aware of safety concerns.  Or more sensitive, to speak accurately.  They’re the kind of thing that allows us as workers to say, “hell, no.  I’m not climbing that f*ing ladder, dumb ass.  You do it, if its that important.”  They keep us safe and give us leverage to try to improve our work environments as individuals, affecting change where no law can reach us.

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