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ALBANY, NY — There are 63 senate districts in New York State, and this year 31 are held by Republicans and 32 are held by Democrats. Republicans still hold the majority however because one Democrat, Simcha Felder, caucused with the Republicans. In November, voters chose 40 Democrats to go to the Senate and only 23 Republicans, meaning that, beginning in January, there is very little doubt that Democrats will control the Senate. Among the departing senators were eight who were members of the Independent Democratic Committee, who in past years helped Republicans retain control of the Senate when Democrats had an actual majority. Six of them were voted out of office.
Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins will become the majority leader of the Senate in January, the first woman to ever hold that office, and also the first African American. The Democratic members of the Senate officially chose her to lead on November 26.
Observers say her rise to that office marks the end of “three men in a room,” where the typically male Senate majority leader, speaker of the assembly and governor work out details of major legislation, such as the budget, in private.
Stewart-Cousins was first elected to the state Senate in 2006, but she has served in state and local government since 1992. She said she has never seen voters as engaged and ready to go to the polls as they were in November 2018. She gives much of the credit for this to President Donald Trump. “Nobody of either party believed that Trump would win,” she said on an episode of the Max and Murphy podcast, adding that when he did, it motivated people to take a closer look at government at all levels, and voters began to understand the important roles state legislatures plays.
She said policy positions of state Democrats also played a role in driving turnout, such as, “fighting for tougher gun laws, marriage equality, paid family leave [and] raising the minimum wage.”
Another critical factor was the Tax Cut and Jobs Act passed by the administration in December 2017, which blocks many New Yorkers from deducting the full amount of state and local taxes from their federal tax bills. She said at the state level, “Republicans didn’t really stand up and say ‘This is wrong.’ My colleagues on the other side of the aisle, for whatever reason, are no longer able to say anything that will possibly put them at odds with this President.”
It now seems likely that the legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo will pursue legislation that Republicans had blocked, such as codifying Roe v. Wade’s protections in state law, ethics reform in Albany, passing legislation that would allow for financial aid for undocumented students, and the Child Victims Act, which would extend the statute of limitations for some sexual abuse victims.