Call the Roll — A Study in Hypocrisy

The “Sad and Shady” Bunch — Valesky, Avella, Hamilton, Savino, Klein, Alcantara, Carlucci, and Peralta — photo credit:

Senator Jeff Klein’s communications team just posted a video on YouTube called Call the Roll, and it’s as absurd as the idea that a group of 8 state Senators continue to be allowed to enable Republican leadership in a dark blue state, essentially blocking all progressive legislation. (Thanks, Governor Cuomo!)

For those of you new to the wonders of Albany politics (No, I’m not just talking to you, Keith Ellison), you should know there is a group of pseudo-Democrats in the state Senate called the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). The IDC started as 4 people, and has ballooned to 8 this year. Senator Klein is their leader.

“Meh,” you say, “‘independent democrats’ doesn’t sound so bad. They’re still Democrats.” Alas, no. They’ve fractured the party in such a way that Republicans have effective control over the chamber. Senator Flanagan is the majority leader, and, in thanks for putting him in charge, he shares leadership with Senator Klein. And Klein has no intention of stopping that partnership. He likes the power. He also likes money.

Meanwhile, Republican control means there’s no pressure from the leadership to move progressive legislation out of committee to the floor of the Senate for a vote. Even if the bills did come for a vote, there’s no ability to corral senators into a voting majority.

In past years, this has been frustrating, but, with Trump in the White House, we’re now in serious trouble. There are bills, many of which have already passed the Assembly, covering single payer healthcare, reproductive rights, and immigrant rights, to name a few things, with no hope of passing. Many more were already considered during the budget process and either voted down or the IDC was absent from votes to avoid having to take a position. Either way, the new strategy for this year of co-sponsoring progressive legislation and saying “Hey! We’re progressive!”, while doing nothing to further the process of turning the bills into laws is problematic, to say the least.

Enter this new video, clearly a response to all the negative press the IDC has been getting about lulus and mounting outrage from constituent groups, like Action Potluck NYC and True Blue NY.

In actuality, this video is just a collection of lies, subterfuge, obfuscation, and distraction from what’s actually happening in the Senate. The video has all the members talking about how progressive and amazing they are. They talk about all the important issues us grassroots activists are fighting for. But it’s all hot air. Let’s see why…

  1. Jeff Klein’s intro… apparently drawing attention to the IDC’s crappy voting and reprehensible obstructionism is grandstanding on the part of grassroots organizers. Okayyyy.
  2. Diane Savino on reproductive rights… despite sponsoring two essential pieces of legislation, the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) and the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act (CCCA), the IDC is letting these bills languish in committee, never seeing the light of day on the Senate floor. Additionally, all eight members of the IDC voted against including money in the state budget for an emergency fund for Planned Parenthood. Is that how you defend a women’s right to be in charge of her own body? Senator Alcantara’s own Chief of Staff even expressed doubt the bills would move, at first declining to co-sponsor them for fear of having her name attached to bills that had no prospects.
  3. Jose Peralta on education and the DREAM Act… This is a doozy. All eight IDC members were conveniently absent from a vote on an amendment to pay the owed $4.3 billion to public schools in Foundation Aid (CFE funding). Senator Alcantara promised constituents on January 26, 2017, that that money was a “done deal” and would be fully phased-in starting immediately. That did not happen. Meanwhile, predominantly black and brown children and those with special needs suffer because of the deficit. This is another place Cuomo is not helping New Yorkers. Senator Peralta’s clip also covers immigrant defense… the IDC secured a one-time $10 million fund for legal defense, but compare that to a $77 million endowment of a dirt trail upstate. Another issue is the “free tuition” program that the IDC touted as a major win, which excludes undocumented people, leaving them without any tuition assistance. The DREAM Act has been voted down by Senator Klein before, was called “dead in the water” by Senator Alcantara early in 2017, and was promised to constituents by Peralta in February 2017 at a town hall. And yet, the bill hasn’t materialized. This just doesn’t seem like a priority for the IDC.
  4. Tony Avella on GENDA… the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act has been around since 2003, and has never made it to the Senate floor. Senator Peralta recently invoked his inner toddler on Twitter, responding to Senators Hoylman and Squadron expressing their dismay the bill died in committee yet again. One has to wonder, if this bill is so important to make it into a glossy, fancy IDC propaganda video, wouldn’t the IDC members have pushed harder to get it out of committee, swaying some of their Republican colleagues to vote for it, over the past 14 years?
  5. Jesse Hamilton on healthcare and family planning… Do I feel like a broken record, or what? Co-sponsoring these bills isn’t enough. Where are the statements from the Senate floor? Where’s the pressure in the media on the Republican leadership to bring these bills for a vote? It’s plain old hypocrisy from the IDC again. And why not make an emergency fund for Planned Parenthood, one of the largest providers of family planning services in New York, while you’re at it?
  6. David Carlucci on ethics reform… I can’t even with this one. Not only did all eight members vote against putting ethics reform measures in the budget, but three IDC members are involved in an investigation by the comptroller and the attorney general for receiving money illegally in a new lulu scandal. He also touches on campaign finance reform, which is interesting for a conference funded almost entirely by dark money from charter school lobbyists, hedge funds, and real estate developers.
  7. Marisol Alcantara on healthcare… former NYSNA organizer, Alcantara had a town hall at Columbia University Medical Center about the New York Health Act, a single payer bill, a few months ago. But, she and the other seven members of the IDC had the opportunity to vote for single payer as part of the budget, and chose to vote No instead. Without pressure from a progressive Senate majority leader, this bill is still stuck in committee and isn’t even on the agenda for the Health Committee to consider as of the writing of this op-ed. But don’t worry, a bill about emergency resuscitation of cats and dogs was. Trump is eroding our access to healthcare, but legislators are focusing on animals. Priorities, priorities, IDC.
  8. David Valesky on contraceptives… not to beat a dead horse, but if contraceptive access is a priority, why didn’t the IDC vote for the emergency fund for Planned Parenthood? Why weren’t there any members of the IDC in Albany when constituents went to lobby last week? Senator Krueger was there. I’m sure she’d have welcomed Senators Savino and Alcantara, if not all eight members of this motley crew. But Republicans, and some Democrats, in all fairness, are not supportive of reproductive justice for cis and trans* women, which is even more of a reason the IDC, if they really support the RHA and CCCA, should be vocally pushing these two bills.
  9. Jeff Klein’s closing… sorry, gimme a minute, I just strained my eyes rolling them so hard. He says, “It is time we let voters know who Democrats are and what they really stand for.” Well, let’s do that. Let’s talk to constituents who voted for Democrats, but got senators who support Republicans instead. The phrase turncoats comes to mind. The betrayal is real. We are not being represented by these people. Our values go deeper than the superficial co-sponsorship of bills and high production value videos. We deserve champions and advocates. We deserve progressive warriors. That’s who we voted for, that’s who the real Democrats are. So when Klein calls on Democratic senators to step up, he not only insults them, but us, too, because it’s the Republican leadership he and his 7 colleagues have enabled that are keeping us from the progressive legislation we deserve.

But if you don’t believe me, just watch what happens between now and the end of the legislative session on June 21st. We already know how they voted on amendments during the budget process, but what will they do in the coming weeks? See what kind of pressure the IDC puts on the Republican leadership to get these bills to move out of committee. If they’re so important, the IDC should be speaking out publicly to crank up the pressure. You can lie through your teeth in a video, but you can’t cover the truth of your treachery forever.