Even as New York‘s liberal tide rose when Gov. Andrew Cuomo furthered his progressive agenda with the passage of this week’s gun control law, there were signs of a new and feisty, if small, conservative corps in Albany.
They are often brash, many are new to Albany, and unlike most in New York politics today, they seem unafraid of and unimpressed by the Democratic governor, a popular figure with whom most Republicans have forged an alliance. Their voices rose last week against Cuomo’s assault rifle ban in a gun control package that was the first in the nation after December’s elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
“Tonight we preach about saving lives,” said second-term Republican Sen. Greg Ball of the Hudson Valley in the Senate floor debate. He paused and gave a long, schoolyard glare at Democrats who supported Cuomo’s gun bill.
“We didn’t save any lives tonight, except for one, the political life of a governor who wants to be president,” said Ball, who like most of the conservatives were endorsed in last all elections by the state Conservative Party. “I’m voting no. I only wish I could have done it twice.”
Veteran Republican Assemblyman Marc Butler of Central New York accused Cuomo of issuing the bill “by fiat,” while second-term Assemblyman Steve Katz of the Hudson Valley said the Legislature was “bullied” by a governor obsessed with his own political career.
These new voices come as the traditional conservative power in the Legislature, Senate Republicans, now have just a share of majority control. They split 18-11 in opposition to the gun control bill with most upstate senators opposed and most Long Islanders supportive.
“How dare you put New Yorkers at risk?” said Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin. He said the law will make it harder for New Yorkers to defend their families, which he argued is guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. “Criminals will laugh at this law.”
“What you’re telling their constituents is that they are going to die,” said Assemblyman James Tedisco, a Republican representing Schenectady and Saratoga counties.
The rhetoric was fueled by thousands of calls from constituents and hundreds of calls from the National Rifle Association and the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association to legislators, some of whom were brought into office by the tea party movement in the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Cuomo dismissed criticism aimed at him by saying people have lots of opinions. He defended his order for quick approval without public hearings as an emergency based to end bloodshed and to avoid a run on assault weapon sales.
Republicans were sent a strong message from the Conservative Party in the 2012 elections. Four Republicans with the Conservative endorsement, which is important to attract more votes in the face of growing Democratic enrollment, crossed the aisle to support Cuomo’s same-sex marriage proposal. They faced costly Conservative primaries, and just one of the four returned to the Senate this year.
Some of the Republican split on the vote reflects the difference between the metropolitan view framed by urban gun violence and the rural perspective where guns are mostly associated with law-abiding hunters and the constitutional rights. But a big part of the political win goes to Cuomo’s decision to tie the assault weapon ban and limit on bullets in magazines to some long-sought Republican objectives to better keep guns from the mentally ill and to stiffen gun crime sentences.
Still, conservatives find some solace.
“It is encouraging to see people who have the courage to stand up when they know they are in the minority,” said state Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long.
Long says Cuomo’s “extreme liberal turn” will help the conservative cause, which has turned up the volume after their objections to Cuomo’s income tax hike on millionaires were ignored in 2011 and their calls for property tax caps were ignored for years until Cuomo made it his priority in 2011.
Although politics tends to be cyclical, voter trend researcher Bruce Gyory doesn’t see a conservative wave coming.
“Cuomo picked up far more support here in New York state than he lost by leading the charge and enacting a gun control package,” said Gyory. He said gun lobbyists and conservatives can deluge lawmakers, but still account for a fraction of New York’s electorate where Democrats hold a nearly 2-to-1 edge.
Conservatives “will guarantee Cuomo angry protesters at every public appearance for a long time, but those protests are lodged in a relatively small minority,” Gyory said. They “may just insure Cuomo continued support from the metro regions which dominate the state’s electorate upstate and downstate.” (ARTICLE)