The public focus on policymaking at the state Capitol has taken a backseat to the actions of the Trump Administration. Almost from the minute the new President was inaugurated, his nonstop, frantic pace has captured the nation’s attention.
In his first sixteen days, President Trump has pledged to construct a wall between the United States and Mexico, imposed new sanctions on Iran, ordered that no refugees from seven mostly-Muslim nations could enter the US, made the preposterous statement that the crowd size of his inaugural was the largest seen, and has continued to claim that voter fraud allowed millions to vote – incredibly only for his opponent – even though there is not a shred of evidence that this is true. Incredibly, the Trump Administration cites “alternative facts” as the basis for its claims.
In such a political environment, New Yorkers can be excused for not paying close attention to debates at the state Capitol.
When it comes to environmental policy, the Trump Administration had ignored well established scientific evidence that the burning of fossil fuels is a prime contributor to global warming. The President has chosen the former head of ExxonMobil to be his Secretary of State and chosen individuals who ignore science as the heads of important environmental agencies, such as the EPA.
In addition, the President has also taken steps to overturn the Obama Administration’s limitations on coal mining and the construction of oil pipelines in the Midwest.
Here in New York, there has largely been a different approach: the governor has followed the advice of experts that the best place for fossil fuel is in the ground and banned the exploitation of natural gas through fracking, and he has advanced plans to encourage the use of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar.
Yet, the Cuomo Administration has approved permits for the construction of a 200 mile pipeline to deliver fossil fuels. The Administration has done so quietly, flying under the radar of the Trump spectacle.
When it comes to ethics, the spotlight has remained on the President. He simply refuses to completely disentangle himself from his business dealings and he still hasn’t released his tax returns – despite promises to do so. In a decision which could lead to serious consequences for American consumers, the President issued an executive order that halted the implementation of another federal rule which mandated financial advisers act in the best interests of their clients.
On a more positive note, the President signed several executive orders — an ethics order banning administration appointees from ever lobbying foreign governments and from federal lobbying for five years after they leave office.
Here in New York, despite corruption scandals of historic proportions, there has been little movement to overhaul oversight to rely on independent agencies. Instead, the governor has proposed the creation of a number of new watchdogs – but who are appointed by, and are accountable to, the governor.
It has been the lack of independent oversight that has contributed to Albany’s scandals.
It makes perfect sense for all Americans to pay close attention to the new Administration in Washington. The new President enjoys the spotlight and has challenged the status quo with new approaches and, unfortunately, deceptions and deliberate falsehoods to hide his intentions and to mislead the public.
Yet, there is a necessary challenge to also focus on the actions of state government. In a quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, “eternal vigilance is the price we pay for liberty.”
The work of holding elected officials accountable is the responsibility of all citizens. Given New York’s recent scandals and the deliberate deceptions of the new Trump Administration, we will all have our hands full.
The consequences will be dire, if we neglect that responsibility.
Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.