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Remembering State Legislature days

It was 50 years ago when I was first elected to the New York State Assembly. A lot has changed since then, but one thing has remained the same…the majority party in the Assembly controls the budgeting process and the flow of legislation.

When I was elected Assemblyman in 1974, the Democratic Party, which had been out of power for many years, won a majority of seats… 88 to be specific. (There are 150 Assembly members, and it takes 76 votes to pass a bill.)

I was called a “marginal” in the halls of Albany. That is, my seat, which had been held for decades by Republicans, had now had become a “swing” district. In succeeding years, Republicans would try to retake the seat, but I held on and was elected for four terms (8 years) before deciding to leave politics and enter the private sector.

In those eight years, I was able to accomplish a lot for Chautauqua County because I was in the majority in the Assembly. It was made possible also because Jess Present was a Republican, and Republicans, at that time, were in the majority in the State Senate. Most of the legislation that I introduced was in the form of what was called a “uni-bill.” It had an Assembly bill number and a Senate number. Thus, when it passed one house of the legislature, it could easily be passed in the other house merely by substituting the bills when they reached the floor.

Jess and I also co-operated on state budget matters. He had a larger district but our interests were usually the same. Issues of education, transportation, healthcare policy, etc. are not partisan in nature. We agreed, in most cases, on how to address the needs of Chautauqua County and the Southern Tier… likely, the most lasting visible legacy of those years being our efforts, combined with others, toward completing the Southern Tier Expressway (now I-86) and the bridge over Chautauqua Lake.

For the past several years both our Assemblyman and State Senator have been in the minority in the State Legislature. That means that they are limited in their ability to influence the state budget, or to get legislation to the floor for a vote.

This is not a criticism of them. It just reflects the reality of how things work in a legislative body. When you are in the majority in any legislative body, you can be more effective than if you are in the minority.

This year brings the possibility that, at least in the Assembly, Chautauqua County could elect again a representative who would be in the majority. As of this writing, Andy Goodell has not yet announced if he is seeking re-election. If he does not run, it would mean that there would not be an incumbent in the race. Mike Bobseine, a Democrat and lawyer from Fredonia who worked as an intern in the Assembly while in college and subsequently served in the county legislature, has announced that he is running for the position.

If Bobseine were to be elected, he would be in the majority. (There are now 102 Democrats to 48 Republicans in the State Assembly.) That means that, at least, in one house of the state legislature, we would have a member of the majority party representing us. That would be a good thing.

Most voters don’t think much about the dynamics of how a legislative body affects them. To them, it is like “inside baseball.” Who cares? In actuality, it makes a big difference in the ability of your representative to effectively represent you, if he/she is part of the majority in a legislative body.

Could this year be a repeat of 1974? Will the voters of Chautauqua County elect a person who would be in the majority to represent them in Albany? We will have to wait until November to find that out.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident and former member of the New York state Assembly.

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