Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Assembly Majority Denies Representation to 5.5 Million New Yorkers

Sometimes a mistake can illuminate more about a speaker's mindset than a flawless statement.

In yesterday's Politicker piece by Azi Paybarah, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky dismissed criticism of the Assembly's process for rejecting congestion pricing, arguing that, "[i]n this case, the issue was so important that the conference substituted for a committee meeting. It was a committee of the whole, as it were."

Students of government will pick up on the problem right away--a traditional "committee of the whole" functions as a forum for debate for the whole legislative body. By excluding minority members and the public from the conversation, the Assembly's treatment of congestion pricing was almost exactly the opposite of a committee of the whole. Since when is it a good idea to make the most important debates the most secret?

We don't mean to pick on one misstatement by one member of the Assembly. Many of Assemblyman Brodsky's colleagues share his apparent belief that the Democrats' supermajority status in the body means they can, for all intents and purposes, pretend the Republicans (and the general public, for that matter) don't exist. The minority is denied equal staff and resources, has almost no power in committees, and is left out of the "floor debate" that really matters--Democratic conference meetings.

It's just plain wrong to deny proper representation to the 5.5 million New Yorkers who live in Republican districts. We hope the congestion pricing crash-and-burn reminds voters of a problem we've been pushing to solve for years: the operating rules of the Assembly (and Senate) must be changed to foster robust, public debate among ALL legislators, not just those with the ear of the leadership.

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