Thursday, July 9, 2009

Curiouser and Curiouser

The strange culture of New York's state government, which I noted here, seems no less strange after yesterday's developments. Governor David Paterson has appointed Richard Ravitch to fill the office of lieutenant governor, which has been vacant since Paterson became governor when Eliot Spitzer resigned.

Sounds plausible. Except that the state constitution does not provide for such an appointment.

The office has been vacant for over a year. What's the hurry now? A Democratic defector has thrown the partisan balance in the state Senate into a 31-31 tie. As a result of that, the parties disagree about who holds the Senate's presidency. The president of the Senate is the heir apparent to the governor, when the office of lieutenant governor is vacant.

Paterson is correct that it is in the interest of the state to have an orderly gubernatorial succession plan in place. But, if that were his only concern, that could be satisfied by the appointment of a less partisan figure than Ravitch. Paterson's move seems intended, at least in part, to help his Democratic Party regain control of the state Senate.

It's interesting to note that the state's attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has joined with Republicans in questioning the legality of this appointment. All other things being equal, Cuomo would probably want to see his party control the Senate. But Cuomo's statement seems to further confirm his intent to challenge Paterson in next year's gubernatorial primary.

UPDATE: Albany Democrats have reportedly all but sealed a deal for the defector to undefect, and give them back their majority in the state Senate. That would end the dispute about partisan control of the Senate. Will that induce Paterson to drop his questionable appointment of a lieutenant governor?

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