Good morning from New York where State Supreme Court Justice Thomas F. Whelan ruled that Judge Hector LaSalle—and all future judicial nominees—are entitled to a full floor vote before the Senate. Governor Hochul’s nominee to lead the New York Court of Appeals was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier in the month and Senate Leadership maintained that the committee vote sufficiently satisfied the Senate’s “advice and consent” responsibility for nominations as laid out in the state Constitution. In response to the lawsuit filed by Senate Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Andrea-Stewart Cousins held a full floor vote on LaSalle where he was ultimately rejected.
Many of us thought that vote made the lawsuit moot, but Justice Whelan was, in his words, not content to “grab a box of popcorn and sit back.” Whelan found that, “An unnecessary constitutional crisis arose in the past month…To the contrast, the issues are quite easy to resolve. It is time for this constitutional logjam to be broken asunder” and the interpretation of the Constitution by Senate Democrats is “simply unreasonable.” If the decision is appealed, it would, by right, end up in the Appellate Division’s Second Department where, as we discussed last week, it would be presided over by LaSalle himself.
Governor Hochul indicated she would not nominate anew until after the state budget process is final. Hochul told reporters that she has had many conversations with Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and that the rejection has not affected her relationship with the Legislature as they head into the thick of budget negotiations over the next few weeks.
Fresh off of their one-week recess, the Legislature will be back in Albany to continue working out a budget, which is now due in just over a month. The 2023 Economic & Revenue Consensus Forecasting Conference Meeting, an important hearing on the State’s finances that will factor into budget decisions, is scheduled to be held tomorrow (more details here).
The Legislature will also wrap up its Joint Legislative Budget Hearings this week with Higher Education today, Health and Medicaid tomorrow, and Housing and Workforce Development/Labor on Wednesday. From there, both Houses of the Legislature will begin deliberation on their One House Budget Proposals. 30-Day Amendments to Governor Hochul’s Executive Budget Proposal—which we expect to be more substantive than in years past—are due this Friday.
All that said, folks in Albany—inside and outside of government—are whispering concerns that the differences between the Executive and Legislature are so deep that the budget process may go well past last year’s eight-day delay. Stay tuned!
In D.C., Senate Democrats’ prospects of keeping control of the Senate in 2024 increased slightly following Montana Senator Jon Tester’s announcement that he will run for reelection. In his statement, he said “Montanans need a fighter that will hold our government accountable and demand Washington stand up for veterans and lower costs for families. I will always fight to defend our Montana values. Let’s get to work.” Seeking his fourth term, Tester has shown the ability to win as a Democrat in a deep red state, something that would be hard to replicate for any other candidate had Tester decided to forgo reelection. Republican House Rep. Matt Rosendale has the backing of former President Trump and is likely to challenge Tester despite losing his bid in 2018 by four points.
Still, Tester will have his work cut out for him. In 2020, President Trump won the state by 16 points and in a presidential election year, turnout is certain to be higher than it was in his 2018 race. Also adding a layer of intrigue, his fellow Senator from Montana, Steve Daines, is the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is tasked with electing Republicans to the Senate. Senator Tester has made a name for himself as a moderate Democrat who is not afraid to go against his own party, though not publicly to the extent that Senators Manchin and Sinema do. Tester’s personal profile, a working farmer who lost three fingers in a meat grinder, has also helped him earn the trust of Montana voters who may be turned off by traditional Democrats.
Even if Tester can defy the odds again, Democrats still face a daunting electoral map. Republicans only have to defend 10 seats while Democrats have to defend 23. Two of those Democratic seats, like Tester, are in states won convincingly by President Trump in 2020. Senator Sherrod Brown (D) is up for reelection in Ohio where Trump won by 8 points as is Senator Joe Manchin (D) in West Virginia where Trump won by nearly 40 points.
In the House of Representatives, Democrats are determined to retake the majority, starting with winning back the seats they lost in New York in 2022. Congressional Democrat’s main super PAC, House Majority PAC, announced they are allocating $45 million in New York alone to retake four Republican seats and challenge in two other competitive districts. Across the country, there are currently 18 Republicans representing districts that President Biden won in 2020, six of them are in New York. Mike Smith, the group’s President said, “The path to the majority runs through New York. It’s not just us seeing it. It is the Republican Party seeing it. It’s every donor around the country seeing it.” Among the Republicans being targeted are Nick Lalota and Anthony D’Esposito on Long Island, Marc Molinaro in the Hudson Valley, and Brandon Williams outside of Syracuse, who all formed a PAC of their own called “New York Majority Makers.” Embattled freshman and serial fabulist Rep. George Santos is also up for reelection in 2024 though he has not indicated if he will run again and GOP leaders on Long Island have said they would support a primary opponent.
And finally…the northern U.S. in under invasion from “incredibly intelligent, highly elusive” Canadian “super pigs” weighing north of 600 lbs. You have been warned!
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