The Great Paterson Disappointment Continues

by on Aug.09, 2009, under New York, Politics

Gov. David A. Paterson issued a sweeping executive order on Friday that would allow a handpicked group of top aides to repeal state regulations they deem outdated or overly burdensome to businesses.

When an earlier version of the order was obtained by the news media last year, it caused an outcry among labor, environmental and consumer groups, who feared that the plan would make it too easy for industries to weaken regulations and rules they opposed. Mr. Paterson’s aides backed away from the proposal and said it was only a draft.

But the final order appears largely unchanged from the draft. The order establishes a regulatory review and reform committee, made up of five senior members of Mr. Paterson’s cabinet and led by his secretary, Lawrence S. Schwartz, who has described himself as Mr. Paterson’s “enforcer.”

The most charitable explanation one can offer for this latest piece of Paterson stupidity is that he and his aides trust themselves not to eliminate truly important environmental or labor protections, just the misguided or pointlessly burdensome ones. But of course even if they have the purest of intentions, David Paterson won’t be governor forever. At some point in the not too distant future we’ll have another governor (say, next year), and who knows how pure his or her intentions will be? Institutions behave predictably. Individuals don’t. That’s why institutional protections mean something and the promises of individual politicians don’t.

Besides which New York State politics already suffers from a grotesque excess of concentrated backroom power. That’s something David Paterson should know well, since as a senator in the minority and then Senate Minority Leader he was always shut out of the back room, meaning he accomplished exactly nothing. I know of no major bills for which he was responsible during the 20 years he was in the state senate. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It does mean I didn’t know about them at the time and couldn’t find them quickly by Googling.

Those of us on the left were misled by Paterson’s history of saying the right thing, getting arrested at the right protests. I know I was comforted that when Spitzer had to resign, it looked like we’d still have someone from our side in the governor’s mansion. Perhaps we should have paid more attention to the fact that Joe Bruno sang his praises. No one  Joe Bruno loves can be all good.

But Albany’s secretive, backroom form of government managed to hide Paterson’s faults from us all, even when all his colleagues knew them well:

A bombshell secret report sizing up David Paterson’s leadership when he was Senate minority leader found his office mired in chaos, lacking clear lines of communication and hobbled by dysfunction and indecisiveness.

“Leader Paterson has a restaurant maitre d’ style of management – whatever the members want,” Jonathan Rosen, then a top staffer for Senate Democrats, told a Paterson aide who was tapped to interview staffers and compile their opinions.

One top aide who should have been imposing discipline instead boozed with subordinates and came to work hung over, one employee griped.

A politically connected hire had only one job: to make sure drawers were stocked with copier paper, another revealed.

Now we’re supposed to trust the latter-day version of this gang to shoot straight with us on environmental regulation. Whatever.

(As a minor aside, Liz Benjamin rules.)

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