State budget stalled + WTF IDC

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In-Depth: WTF IDC

With the NYC chapter of DSA beginning to organize around some state-level legislative issues, it has become clear that a major roadblock to getting progressive policies passed in the legislature is the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). The IDC is a growing faction of eight New York State Democratic Senators who have formed a coalition with Republicans. Even though the Senate should have a Democratic majority, with 32 Dems and 31 Republicans, the Republicans control the chamber, thanks to a power-sharing agreement with the eight IDC members and one Democrat who caucuses with Republicans without pledging allegiance to the IDC. Only 22 senators caucus with mainstream Democrats in what’s supposedly a deep blue state (one seat was recently vacated in Harlem but will be filled by May). For perspective, there are 103 Democrats in the 150-member State Assembly.

With control of the senate, Republicans are able to appoint heads of the various issue-based committees where bills first get heard, set the agenda for what goes up for a senate-wide vote, and frequently kill progressive legislation that emerges from the Assembly. For more background on how this happened, watch this great three-minute video.

What do they think they’re doing? The IDC was formed following two years of Democratic party ineptitude when they controlled the Senate in 2009 and 2010, which led to an opportunistic power-play from the group’s founder, Bronx senator Jeff Klein. Newer IDC members claim that their defection from the mainstream Democrats is not just a response to poor Democratic leadership, but a progressive move, because it encourages cross-party collaboration that is not otherwise possible. IDC members also cite Simcha Felder’s defection and the numerical impossibility of Democratic control as a reason to make a deal with Republicans; however, the IDC has given control to Republicans in every legislature since 2012, and the math wasn’t always in the GOP’s favor. Like good denizens of Albany, the IDC are also in it for the money: six of the eight IDC senators are committee chairs or vice chairs (a privilege not available to minority party members), which allows them higher pay. Furthermore, their alignment with the majority party results in larger offices and higher pay to senior staff members.

Klein claims that the IDC’s presence has “pulled Republicans to the left,” but it’s unclear exactly how their influence factors into passing progressive legislation. They have been involved in the passing of $15/hr minimum wage and paid family leave, and they are currently propping up their support of Raise the Age, a push to keep 16- and 17-year-olds from being tried as adults in criminal cases. However, their support of Raise the Age has been questioned by mainline Democrats, and their push to keep it in budget negotiations may have fallen short as of this newsletter’s publication. As most of the IDC hails from NYC, it is also impossible to ignore how their power arrangement hamstrings state legislation that could address serious issues unique to the City, like repealing the Urstadt Law to improve our failing rent regulation system.

What is a NYC Socialist to do? Although the IDC has been around since 2010, the defection of three Senators from progressive NYC districts (Marisol Alcantara, Jose Peralta, and Jesse Hamilton) coupled with the aftermath of the 2016 election has resulted in a significant public backlash against its members. The IDC has been clumsily fighting back: Peralta claimed that protesters at a recent town halls were outsiders, and white IDC founder Jeff Klein has said that criticism of the three newest IDC members is racist.

Recent momentum for the New York Health Act, a proposal to enact a single-payer healthcare system in New York State, will further highlight the cynical role that the IDC plays in the enactment of progressive legislation. The IDC has publicly come out in support of the proposal, but if they cannot convince Simcha Felder or a Republican to support the proposal (and it’s unclear if they care enough to try), the bill will fail. That being said, this struggle is far from over, and advocates around the state, including NYCDSA’s Socialist Feminist Working Group, continue to fight for single payer in New York.

IDC members have exploited common ignorance around state politics by appearing on the ballot as Democrats and automatically receiving support from New York’s electorate, and up until now they’ve mostly gotten away with it. In one example of this crass behavior, IDC Senator Jesse Hamilton scheduled his defection to the IDC on November 7, 2016, safe from any primary challenge (he ran unopposed in the Democratic primary in September) and purposely buried within the Election Day news cycle. It’s unlikely that more than a tiny portion of the 90,272 Brooklynites who elected him the following day even knew.

As more New Yorkers are now becoming aware of the IDC’s swindle, they are fighting back in stunning numbers. Hundreds of ordinary people showing up to protest state legislator town halls and offices is a rare occurrence in New York politics. If we can maintain and harness this anger, we can hopefully ensure a dramatic and positive change in the 2018 elections (or sooner). It is also our responsibility to fight tooth and nail for accountable state legislators, particularly as Governor Cuomo is largely content with dysfunctional Republican/IDC rule over the Senate. While the state Democratic Party is for the most part owned by corporate and real estate interests and is certainly no panacea, a Democrat-led legislature provides far more open doors for DSA and other progressive activists to push for significant improvements on major issues like rent regulation, transit funding, environmental policy, and criminal justice reform.

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