Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on the GOP’s wins in New York – and the nation
C&S: It looks likely that Republicans will control the state Senate next year. What priorities do the state Senate Republicans plan to advance during the 2017 legislative session?
JF: Our priorities are the people’s priorities, and that’s where our focus has been and will continue to be. We need to make it more affordable to live here, and that starts with reducing taxes. We need to make sure people have jobs so they can provide for their families. And we’re going to continue to provide record support for schools and make progress on quality-of-life issues like heroin addiction, Lyme disease and more. We can make a real difference in the lives of so many people if we are focused on these things.
C&S: The presidential election result was a shock to many Republicans and Democrats. Why do you think state Senate Republicans related to voters that came out and did so well in the districts they won?
JF: It’s about having the right candidates, the right message and the right agenda. We were fortunate to go into battle this year with incumbents who had really strong records and we had first-class candidates. If you look at Chris Jacobs, Elaine Phillips, Pam Helming and Jim Tedisco, who are part of our incoming freshman class, they had already accomplished great things in their own communities and in their own right before deciding to run for the state Senate.
C&S: Do you anticipate partnering with the IDC this year and continuing your partnership with state Sen. Simcha Felder?
JF: I do, because the people of this state want Democrats and Republicans to work together to get results. The relationship with Sen. Klein and members of the IDC is a long-term relationship that has existed for six years now. And we have really accomplished a lot together, including enactment of the property tax cap, elimination of the GEA and a responsible and compassionate paid family leave law. As for Sen. Felder, he has had a positive impact on our conference and we have embraced him. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a person and as a public servant, and I look forward to working with him next session.
C&S: What results do you take away from Tuesday night’s election – particularly, in your opinion, why did people support a Republican state Senate over a Democratic state Senate in New York?
JF: In my opinion, the Senate Democratic Conference has moved too far to the left and their views no longer are shared by the vast majority of New Yorkers. We are focused on taxes, jobs and giving people the opportunities they need to succeed and get ahead. The Senate Democrats want to make taxpayer-funded political campaigns a reality here in New York state, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars that could be better used to rebuild roads and bridges, cut taxes or fully fund our schools. That’s just one example.
C&S: What is your takeaway from New Yorkers voting for a Republican state Senate? Why did they support it and how do you think you can increase that support in a liberal state?
JF: I think people know who we are and what we do. I can go on and on about the positive accomplishments we have had, but even more than that is the accountability we bring to Albany. We bring checks and balances to state government, and we serve as the stopper on policies that would move this state too far to the left. One-party control in New York state wouldn’t be good for anyone. In that respect, we play a very important role.
C&S: Many observers in New York did not expect a Donald Trump victory. Do you believe Trump drove voter turnout and helped candidates in any specific districts?
JF: There’s no question that the Trump voter was motivated to come out and vote on Tuesday, and to try and effect change on the national level. There were pockets where we may have been helped by having him at the top of the ticket but I will tell you that the most important takeaway here is that if the top of the ticket is competitive, Senate Republicans can do very very well in New York. And that definitely happened on Tuesday.
C&S: What does having a Republican president mean for your conference?
JF: It will be a little bit of a unique and different dynamic, but I do believe that the president-elect will take a genuine interest in his home state. If the Republican Party is strong in New York, it will be good for the president and if the president is doing well it will be great for New York. I’m excited about what’s ahead, but I am going to remain hyper-focused on what it means for the people I represent and am advocating for here in New York.
C&S: Mayor Bill de Blasio played a less active role this cycle, but some GOP candidates still mentioned him during the campaign. What impact did the mayor have on the results?
JF: I have great respect for the position of mayor of the city of New York, but I also believe we had a responsibility to point out where we disagree. I do not believe that Mayor de Blasio’s agenda is a good one for the people of this state, and we weren’t going to be shy about pointing that out. Especially when the mayor calculated that the Senate Democrats could help him swiftly get his agenda through the state Legislature. We gave people a choice, and that’s what elections are about.
C&S: Gov. Andrew Cuomo supported Democratic state Senate candidates this year. Do you believe that was a problem for New York Republicans or do you think you can find middle ground and work with him in the next legislative session?
JF: I was disappointed that the governor chose to back Senate Democrat candidates on Long Island because those candidates would have taken us in a direction that wouldn’t have been good for Long Island. And by doing so he chose to oppose senior members of my conference that have experience that is of great benefit to Long Island. I’m just glad it turned out the way it did with our candidates being successful. Now that the elections are over, we have a responsibility to govern. I recognize that. But, I will be unabashed at pointing out when and where I think the governor’s policies are wrong for New York.
C&S: New York is a very diverse state and many minority voters are worried what a Trump administration could mean for them. What would you say to them to reassure them that they have a vote and a voice here in New York?
JF: Like all presidents, Donald Trump has a responsibility to be the president of all Americans, not just the ones who voted for him. I think he takes this responsibility seriously. Everyone must feel like they have a stake in his presidency. But whether you voted for him or did not, he deserves an opportunity to lead and he deserves an open mind.