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Wabbit season

[Editor’s note: Here’s this week’s opinion column from the Editor of The Freeman’s Journal / Hometown Oneonta, Ted Potrikus.]

Elmer Fudd is out hunting, as he does, when Bugs Bunny informs him that it’s duck season. Daffy Duck isn’t having it; he lets Elmer know in no uncertain terms that it’s ‘wabbit season.’ Elmer, confused, can’t figure out which is correct.

“Say, what’s the matter with you anyway?” Daffy demands of Elmer. “Don’t you know a wabbit when you see one?”

Welcome, then, to an election year March in New York. Is it politics season? Or policy season? Can we tell the difference?

This month, your representatives will wrangle a spending plan into place for the state’s fiscal year that begins on April 1. Thanks to a 1998 Governor George Pataki lawsuit victory over Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, New York’s governor wields an enormous bit of power over the annual budget and can cram into it policy priorities that sometimes have only tangential reference to fiscal matters.

Governor Kathy Hochul – her high standing in polls among likely Democrat primary voters notwithstanding – has to think carefully this year about how hard to play the power the executive won in Pataki v. Silver. It’s a tough political tightrope: the left flank – behind gubernatorial candidate Jumaane Williams — will march for untold millions for lofty-minded but undefined policies like ‘green energy’ and ‘education spending,’ the right flank – behind candidate Tom Suozzi — will want changes in bail and discovery reform policy. None of them can discount the looming spectre of Andrew Cuomo; the guy whom one big-bucks Democrat consultant once called ‘the Dracula of politics’ showed up last weekend at a New York City church to deliver what pundits think is the first of many speeches he hopes can reclaim what’s left of his tattered reputation.

Then there are Gov. Hochul’s negotiation frenemies, the Senate and Assembly, each with their own political tripwires. A slew of left-leaning incumbents in both houses — some of them long time, popular incumbents — face June primaries from candidates who skew younger and even farther left (think AOC acolytes). It’s political suicide for them, at this time of the year, to vote on even the slightest tightening of things like bail and discovery reform. Or to vote against more money for whatever.

At the same time, Republicans are battling it out over who can be tougher on this or that. The party endorsed Rep. Lee Zeldin as its gubernatorial candidate; as experienced a campaigner as he is and despite the party’s designation, he faces a hefty challenge from millionaire Harry Wilson, whose get-tough ads already blanket upstate media markets. Here in Otsego County, our incumbent state Senator, Peter Oberacker, finds himself in a primary challenge against fellow Republican Senator Jim Tedisco of Schenectady, forced by Democratic-drawn redistricting into a race neither wants but which both must now deal.

This is a thumbnail sketch of the backdrop against which these officials will negotiate a state budget that, despite protestations to the contrary, likely will be chock-full of not-fiscal policy priorities designed to appease the parties’ faithful who will turn out in June for the primary votes.

At some point between now and the budget’s April 1 due date, we’ll most likely hear the Governor and/or the legislature’s leaders tell us that politics has nothing to do with the budget. That it’s policy season, not politics season. It won’t be politics season, they’ll say, until after the budget is done, until after the state Legislature wraps up its regular session on June 2.

Only then will it be politics season, they’ll say. Only then will the challenged incumbents shift their work from pure policy to pure politics, giving them nearly an entire month to woo voters in time for the June 28 (with a 10-day early voting allowance) primary elections. And then the state Legislature will most likely go back to Albany in July or August to vote on those policy matters that would have been political Kryptonite any time before June 28.  Because it’ll be policy season all over again, at least for a little while.


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