Paterson weighs in on money in politics, Senate makeup

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Former Gov. David Paterson weighed in on the recent corruption scandals in Albany as well as the makeup of the state Senate after giving a keynote address Tuesday at a centennial celebration for an advocacy group for blind and visually impaired people.

He advocated for a system where lawmakers serve full time and are paid higher salaries, which would attract a higher “caliber” of legislator and limit the influence of outside money, he said.

A pair of bribery scandals rocked the Capitol earlier this month. Since, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, lawmakers and good-government groups have pushed campaign-finance reform proposals, some including a public-finance option.

“When there wasn’t as much money floating around, when I came here in 1985 and I was a freshman state senator, we used to get together with our Republican colleagues and have dinner and talk about issues. And it created a bonding,” he said. “You see very little of that now because you spend all your time raising money to fight each other.”

Paterson commented on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s priority Women’s Equality Act, particularly a measure that would strengthen abortion laws in New York. He said his former Republican colleagues in the Senate should vote for the bill, acknowledging that there is a separation of church and state.

“Some of my Republican colleagues have some very strong beliefs that are formed from the tenets of their religious beliefs, which I totally respect,” Paterson said. “But I hope that, as Governor Cuomo tries to pass this legislation, that they will understand that choice doesn’t just mean a certain political designation. Choice means that you have the choice. And this is a civic government; it is not a religious government. And if they look at it that way, I think they could vote for the governor’s bill.”

Paterson complimented the Senate Independent Democratic Conference for focusing on issues rather than using the chamber’s new bipartisan coalition as a purely political tool. When he was governor, he had to deal with a Senate coup in 2009 that brought the Legislature to gridlock for a month.

When asked if he would have preferred a bipartisan coalition like the one leading the chamber now, he joked: “When I was governor, I would have preferred if there was no Senate. Just a unicameral Assembly, and we would have done fine.”

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