In terms of state policy, not many New Yorkers want to know “how the sausage is made” – a term used to describe the wonky and often unsavory process behind passing legislation. But there is a small circle of journalists, lobbyists, advocates, and Albany enthusiasts who can’t get enough of it.
The Martin Group’s Public Affairs team considers itself a proud member of that exclusive group and wanted to get all those like-minded people in one room. So on Feb. 15, 2023, we hosted the first in a series of events known as The Capitol View. The inaugural installment, the Reporters Roundtable, featured four state Capitol journalists who have a front seat to the legislative activity every day: Dan Clark of NY NOW, Anna Gronewold of POLITICO, Josh Solomon of the Times Union, and Maysoon Khan of the Associated Press.
The conversation hit on the current relationship between the governor and her legislative counterparts, the hot issues consuming budget talks, and other policy matters on the horizon.
After a tumultuous end to the previous executive’s term, Governor Kathy Hochul was hoping to bring a more positive, collaborative energy to the Capitol. It was assumed that any friction would be between Democrats and Republicans. But even before the 2023 Legislative Session began, tensions flared within the governor’s own party. The appointment of a state Court of Appeals judge – a typically mundane procedure – ignited a war between progressive left legislators and the more moderate lawmakers, including Hochul. That fight has set the tone for budget negotiations.
Dan Clark noted that this year is different than previous years in large part due to the growing factions within the Democratic party. The number of state legislators who align themselves with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is increasing and so is their pushback on many issues other conference members support. Anna Gronewold pointed out that oppositional forces are much more difficult for the governor to address because they come from within her own party. But which side has the most power? No one knows yet. And it shows.
If there are any politically difficult issues to tackle, this is the year to do it. Lawmakers typically avoid controversial legislation during an election year. Josh Solomon quipped that you know it’s not an election year because the billion-dollar pothole program was left out of the executive budget – a program every New Yorker can throw their support behind and one that was a highlight in 2022.
What is this year’s big issue? Governor Hochul has positioned affordable housing as the top priority, but it isn’t getting much attention. There also is a lot of investment in clean energy, but it’s not mentioned often in the press, aside from the hotly contested gas stove debate. The reporters agree that the Supreme Court justice battle took up a lot of air and drowned out most policy discussions. The clock is ticking on the final state budget, which is due April 1.
This is Maysoon Khan’s first time covering a New York legislative session. She discussed her fascination with learning the importance of relationships at the Capitol. Getting a bill passed can sometimes be more about who you know rather than the advocacy efforts. That inside look is what journalists rely on to inform the public.
But obtaining that information is trickier these days. In the past, reporters would spend hours sitting outside closed doors while legislators met privately. Lawmakers would eventually come out and willfully deliver an assortment of updates, with cameras and notepads inches from their faces. It was routine. However, the pandemic and power shifts have drastically changed that atmosphere. Lawmakers hold details closer to the vest. Twitter – despite its flaws – has replaced traditional modes of communication. And even that is evolving every day.
A pointed final question from an audience member: is state government broken? We’ll leave that up for debate. But everyone in the room at The Capitol View event has a shared goal – of ensuring the public’s voices are heard and represented behind those Capitol walls.