Precedent for Power-Sharing, Though Maybe Not With This Much Hostility

ALBANY—Power sharing? In Albany?

A state Supreme Court justice this morning told Republicans and Democrats battling over the leadership of the State Senate to work it out, and Democratic lawyers said they were moving toward an "unprecedented" power-sharing agreement.

But there is useful precedent elsewhere.

As Justin Phillips, a political science professor at Columbia University whose research focuses on state politics, explained, a number of states, including New Jersey, Michigan and Washington, had to contend with ties in their legislatures and came up with different ways to do so.

"There has to be some sort of agreement about agenda control. This is one of the key issues: which pieces of legislation come up and which don't," Phillips said.

In Washington, both parties were given the opportunity to veto legislation the other proposed. In Michigan, the speakership of the legislature was rotated on a monthly basis. In New Jersey, each party was given a certain quota of bills to advance to the floor.

I asked Phillips how well these programs work.

"The legislature functions and gets things done," he said, noting that "at this moment, it would be better" in New York.

"There must be a power-sharing agreement for the Senate to operate," Richard Emery, an attorney for the Democrats, said leaving court. "That requires a lot of negotiation, a lot of give-and-take between the parties, and hopefully that's what's about to happen."

Phillips said that the climate is not the best right now.  Normally, these agreements are hatched out in off months between elections and the start of legislative sessions, not on the fly.

"That level of acrimony is different," he said. "So we'll see."

Precedent for Power-Sharing, Though Maybe Not With This Much Hostility