Republicans have little power in the state Legislature since Democrats have supermajorities in both chambers. But the Assembly GOP minority has found some notable success in recent weeks in pushing their colleagues across the aisle on several issues.
They have wielded press conferences and legislative maneuvers to significant success as part of wider Republican efforts to pressure Democrats to take a more assertive approach with sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the administration’s reported cover-up of nursing home deaths.
Hostile amendments helped Republicans gum up the legislative process weeks ago in order to pressure Democrats to curb the sweeping emergency powers lawmakers from both parties granted to the governor at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Assembly Republicans were also among the first elected leaders to call on Cuomo to resign over his handling of COVID-19 nursing home deaths. The economic reopening process and outstanding sexual misconduct allegations against Cuomo have given Assembly Republicans other opportunities to highlight the shortcomings of a governor who many Democrats have long been too afraid to criticize until recently.
City & State caught up with Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay to discuss how his conference intends to keep the political pressure on Democrats, what role the GOP has in the impeachment process, how the state budget process will play out – and the life and legacy of his father Douglas Barclay, a former state senator who died in mid-March. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
So how does the Assembly GOP survive in a Democrat-dominated chamber?
We’re going to use every type of bully pulpit; we have to make our voices heard. We don’t make things personal. We try to stick on the issues, and if we think that the majority or the governor are not doing what’s right, we’re going to use every lever that we have.
Elaborate on these levers.
We’re not going to shy away from doing press conferences and speaking out in our districts – whether it’s press conferences, social media or press releases, you name it. We’re going to use all our tools of communication to make sure that the public understands what the governor and the majority are doing. Hostile amendments are another level that we can use to try to get our point across. We’re not just doing (that) to be obstinate or jam up the system, but … we thought stuff like the emergency powers was important enough to try to play that card – and we’ll continue to do that, maybe.
A lot has been made about due process in investigating the governor. Is the impeachment trial the due process?
Yes. I’m not against investigation. Let’s investigate. What I don't think we ought to do is sit and do nothing while the attorney general is investigating. So in my mind, I think we ought to start the impeachment process and use that as due process.
You don’t get to call the shots in the Capitol, but you do have a lot of influence over your members. Where do you draw the line with harassment? Do you think legislators who do the types of things the governor is accused of be allowed to continue serving in the Assembly?
Personally, I would say yes, but there’s such a gray area, how am I going to judge each case? It has to be on a case-by-case basis.
What are Republicans keeping an eye out for in the state budget due April 1?
We are opposed to tax increases across the board. With the federal stimulus money coming in, we don’t face budgetary issues now that require us to raise billions and billions of taxes from New Yorkers. We’re always concerned about the transparency of the process. As the minority, we represent 6 million people. There’s three (people) in the room deciding things; it should be five.
Funding aside, are Assembly Republicans opposed to new aid for excluded workers like undocumented people?
My personal position is yes, but I can’t speak for the conference on that.
Your father recently died. Among many other things, the former ambassador and state senator was the seventh-generation steward of the family farm in Central New York. What did that place mean to him?
He accomplished what he wanted in life, and he was able to die peacefully. So we’re grateful for that. I’m going to miss him, there’s no doubt. We do live on the Salmon River and he loved taking walks along the river. So every time I walk along the river, I think of him and he instilled that love to me and my kids and my siblings.
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