I’ve Seen This Movie Before

By Alan S. Chartock | May 14, 2022

One of the legislature’s guiding principles is to never give the sucker an even break. That doesn’t change. Let’s face it — the legislature is replete with self-serving people and ethical problems. People who run for office have always wanted the upper hand. Every time there is an attempt to make the ethics rules stronger, the members of the legislature say “no.” Anything that will prevent them from ripping off the system is rejected. For the past hundreds of years, any time a “reformer” comes along with a fix to legislative scandals, they are run out for being naive and traitorous. It appears that any group that is established to keep an eye on the legislative zoo will get a big fat “nothing doing” from the legislators because they don’t want anyone cramping their style.

We are now being faced with those who aim to change the system for the good. The idea is that we elect legislators to protect us from venomous and greedy politics. Talk about the wolf guarding the hen house. Governor Hochul has advanced some ideas for ethics reform. You may remember that the last attempt to bring ethics to the legislature was something called JCOPE. It was a miserable failure. There is now an opportunity to establish a group of watchers who will yell “foul” at the top of their lungs when the greedy get going. Governor Hochul is calling for a “…new ethics agency that will prioritize transparency and integrity.” Oh, that again! When we cut through all the BS it comes down to a simple fact. The legislature does not want true ethics reform. Would you if you were in their place? Most of us understand that people will be self-protective when given the opportunity.

So Hochul’s attempts to pass ethics reform in the legislature are going nowhere. The quid pro quo between the governor and the legislature is obvious. There are some things that the solons in the legislature will stand for but giving up their personal perks is not among them. Hochul wants term limits and an outside income ban for elected statewide officials. We saw what happened with Andrew Cuomo. He served three terms and wanted a fourth. That’s probably what did him in and it is exactly what happened with his father who also wanted a fourth term. The President of the United States is limited to two terms. My fellow political scientists often believe that if the voters want you to serve four terms, you should be able to do that. I, on the other hand, have always favored term limits simply because incumbents tend to use the perks of their office to gain reelection.

Some of Hochul’s ideas are good but border on the naive. For example, she demands that politicians take ethics training when they assume office. Now that’s a good one. Does anyone really think these people don’t know the difference between right and wrong? Do they really need ethics or sex training? I once worked for a wonderful politician who was “Abscammed.” Against the advice of a senior advisor, he went into a room with an FBI guy who was playing the role of a sheik who was giving out money to a lot of congressmen and a few senators. Oh, come on! I love the idea that politicians need to be “trained” not to become corrupt. They know full well what they should and should not be doing. It’s no wonder that people tend to believe all politicians are corrupt.

Hochul also wants politicians to respond to requests for information. All she really needs to do is to tell her people to give journalists and citizens whatever they need to have. I feel like I’ve seen this movie before.

Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at [email protected].