Assembly Republicans knew they were going to need a new leader in 2020 after Assemblyman Brian Kolb drove his state-issued SUV into a ditch on New Year’s Eve. Fellow upstate Assemblyman William Barclay swiftly presented himself as a candidate for the role. The nine-term legislator has earned some good will over the years from his colleagues for his work as the ranking member on the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees budgetary matters.
After a frantic weekend of phone calls and under-the-radar politicking, Barclay emerged as the new leader for a GOP minority conference that has struggled to translate its political messaging into legislative achievement in the Democrat-dominated chamber. Whether Barclay can change that dynamic – while also keeping up with his job at the family law practice – remains to be seen.
City & State caught up with Barclay during the first week of session to hear how he is approaching his new role. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
So what’s it like to become minority leader?
I never knew I would become leader. I had some interest in it and I don't think that's a secret, but it wasn't the way I envisioned becoming leader. It's been such a short time span. It's been very busy and it had to be because of the State of the State.
How did you position yourself to take the helm?
As soon as Kolb announced he stepped down, I started reaching out to various members of the conference. I really wanted to see if there was any level of support for me to become leader. Then once it became clear that people were going to be supportive, I started reaching out to all 42 members.
What does it say about the Assembly GOP conference that Kolb was arrested and ended up resigning his leadership post?
I think people wanted to give him the benefit of doubt, at least initially, because he served for 10 years. The long and short of it was that Kolb reached the understanding in his own head that he wasn't going to be able to be an effective leader with that type of thing hanging over his head.
How do you plan on influencing the legislative process in the Assembly, considering that Democrats have such an overwhelming majority?
It's a question of if we can get everybody to cover our messaging, because sometimes it's a challenge to get our message out. Obviously, we're more successful on some issues than we are on others. I think the biggest thing is bail reform. That's the No. 1 thing that I think we're getting some traction on.
What about this $6 billion budget deficit?
We didn't get ourselves into this position. Frankly, it was the governor – with the help of the majorities in both houses. The one thing I will tell you that we don't want to do is raise taxes. We don’t have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem, and Medicaid is the biggest budget item.
The governor is talking about assembling a new Medicaid Redesign Team like the one he used in 2011. Is that the answer?
It might be, but I’m going to withhold judgement. The problem is the devil's always in the details. He's going to come out with his budget address in, what? Two weeks? And we'll see what he has to suggest.
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