Leadership Term Limits Won’t Fix What’s Still Wrong In State Capitol
May 5, 2017
We wish we could say a Republican-led effort to impose term limits on leadership positions in the state Legislature would result in sweeping changes.
It simply isn’t so.
Look no further than legislation which was approved last week by the state Senate that would impose eight-year term limits on the Assembly speaker, temporary president of the state Senate and majority and minority leadership positions in the two legislative chambers. Addditionally, no legislator could remain chairperson of a committee for more than eight consecutive years. The thinking is that fresh faces bring new ideas that can make the state Legislature more responsive to state residents. We have seen with corruption and ethics scandals involving Sheldon Silver, former Assembly speaker, and Dean Skelos, former Senate majority leader, that having leadership in place for too long is a recipe both for corruption and for one person’s agenda to stymie good ideas from throughout the Legislature.
The Senate has passed this legislation for four consecutive years only to see it expire in the state Assembly. Republicans are fighting the good fight, and we applaud state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, for continuing to push for leadership term limits. But, if merely changing the people in charge every eight years were a panacea for what ails Albany, then Republicans wouldn’t still be fighting for legislative term limits in the first place.
Ethics and corruption scandals brought an opportunity to change the way the Legislature operates after the resignations of Silver and Skelos. It didn’t happen, particularly in the state Assembly, where the nameplate on the Assembly leader’s door says Carl Heastie, but the chamber operates as if Silver was still in charge. A law forcing Heastie to give up his position won’t suddenly make Andy Goodell the Assembly speaker, as much as we wish it were so, because the law can’t make the Legislature choose better leadership once the posts open up. Recent history shows the Assembly doesn’t want to change.
In the end, the only way to change the type of legislative leadership happens in voting booths several hundred miles away every other November. Perhaps one of these years New York City will elect someone who can lead the entire state, not just the five boroughs.