Bipartisanship, But How?

ALBANY—While both sides in the fight over state senate leadership wait to hear from a judge, the 31-31 split in the chamber means things will have to get more bipartisan. Right?

"It's not in their political D.N.A. to work in a bipartisan fashion," said Blair Horner, the legislative director of NYPIRG and a longtime Capitol observer. "I don't know how long it takes to get there, but if there's any hope for the session, it's going to have to be in a bipartisan way."

Maybe, but expect more bickering first.

Here's one scenario:

Justice Thomas McNamara could decide this morning to sign an order presented by Republicans that would dissolve the Democrats' legal challenge to the "coalition" of State Senators Pedro Espada Jr. and Dean Skelos, a Bronx Democrat and a Long Island Republican. McNamara has indicated he doesn't want to get involved. This is one way not to do so.

Republicans would claim victory, wrap it in a cloak of bipartisanship and rules reform, but Democrats would no doubt continue to cry foul, possibly opting to boycott any session they call or claiming that Espada Jr. is in violation of a temporary restraining order they've obtained.

Here's another:

McNamara could side with the Democrats, signing a legal order continuing that party's control of the chamber by declaring State Senator Malcolm Smith still the majority leader and temporary president. The 31-31 split would still frustrate any agenda.

"It's the worst-case scenario," Assemblyman Jack McEneny, the Capitol's resident historian, said of the 31-31 split.

So about those bipartisan coalitions. In negotiations with the Republicans-plus-Espada caucus, State Senator Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat, proposed a system where the president pro tempore and floor leader would alternate day-to-day, and be of opposite parties. A six-member committee composed of three Republicans and three Democrats would determine what bills reached the floor.

"Regardless of if they win in the court case, we're still at a tie and we still need to come up with a short-term solution," Klein told me by phone after a closed-door session where he floated the system.

It was rejected.

In the long term, there have been suggestions of a system where committee chairs are more greatly empowered, like in Congress. Variations on Klein's plan for bipartisan control have been tried in other states, and may come to apply here.

But until the ruling comes down, its hard to see which what's going to be workable.

If McNamara favors the Republicans, as his stated reluctance to actively overturn the coup suggest, there will be more talk about bipartisanship from the Democrats, and more pointing by Republicans to the one Democrat voting with them, and the rules changes they voted in last week.

If Democrats win the case, it will be fun to see if Klein is still as interested in sharing power.