NOT ALL PUBLICITY is good publicity. Consider the case of Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin (R-107th), who got plenty publicity last week, much of it bad.
Mr. McLaughlin’s district includes the Columbia County towns of Austerlitz, Canaan, Chatham, Hillsdale, Kinderhook and New Lebanon as well as most of Rensselaer and southern Washington counties. Recently he has received considerable local TV air time as a Capital District lawmaker commenting on the news. So it wasn’t surprising that he was one of the speakers at a press conference called by Republicans to fault Governor Cuomo on what they see his failure to live up to campaign promises of transparency in government, in specific, the process the governor used to win passage of the NY SAFE Act, the new gun control law.
In the video of the press conference Mr. McLaughlin describes the actions leading to passage of the SAFE Act bill, saying, “… The way we’ve been operating here lately is as a dictatorship would operate, not as a representative republic.” It isn’t the first time an angry legislator has let loose with regrettable outburst, though he might have been better off if he’d coughed up a four-letter word that broadcasters and family newspapers would censor.
Instead he did something more seasoned politicians have learned to avoid: He jumped at the opportunity to respond to a reporter who asked whether he was calling the governor a dictator. Mr. McLaughlin said that in effect the Assembly had been told to “shut up and vote” and that was “dictatorial.” And then he went over the edge.
“Hitler would be proud, Mussolini would be proud of what we did here. Moscow would be proud, but that’s not democracy,” said Mr. McLaughlin. He said the governor had behaved like a dictator.
Within a few hours, following criticism of his remarks by members of his own party and others, he appeared on a You Tube video segment in which he apologized for his statements and said he had called the governor to apologize directly. He said he was passionate about the issue and had made a mistake, that he was only human.
It’s tempting to weigh the original statements against his apology to measure in an effort to evaluate which matters more. But that type of speculation doesn’t clear up why a second-term lawmaker in the state of New York would characterize an action authorized by the state constitution as something worthy of Adolf Hitler, arguably the greatest enemy modern democracy has ever faced, let alone one of the worst monsters of all history.
The reason Mr. McLaughlin offered for his “passionate” statements was the governor’s “message of necessity” on the SAFE Act bill. Under normal circumstances before the Assembly or the state Senate may vote on whether to adopt a new law, a printed copy of the bill must be on lawmakers’ desks for three days. But if the governor issues a message of necessity, lawmakers may vote on a bill immediately. The message of necessity didn’t force Mr. McLaughlin to vote for the law, and he didn’t. It just allowed legislators to vote.
Mr. McLaughlin must know how the legislative process works and he may know that previous governors have frequently issued such messages. What was different about this message of necessity was the subject of the bill: gun control. Mr. McLaughlin was incensed by the governor’s use of this constitutional prerogative to push through legislation, but the root of his anger that led him to compare Mr. Cuomo to Hitler was his aversion to the governor’s gun control bill.
That bill received a majority of the votes in the Assembly (controlled by Democrats) and the Senate (run by Republicans in coalition with a small group of Democrats) and was signed into law by Mr. Cuomo. That is a textbook case of how representative democracy works.