Watch as Andrew Cuomo makes the State Senate into a no-lose proposition

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Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders. (Governor Andrew Cuomo, via flickr)
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Someone from Cuomoland contacted me this morning with a complaint about the subject line in my morning email newsletter, which referred to a "Cuomo coalition" now running the State Senate.

Shortly afterward, Cuomo released an op-ed to the Albany Times Union endorsing the coalition, which he presents as the best oppotunity for a functional Senate.

Cuomo talks in the piece about how Democrats "squandered the opportunity" when they ran the State Senate, and says that "The Democratic Conference dysfunction was legendary and the current leadership has failed" to keep some members from defecting.

Cuomo, the governor and functional leader of the New York State Democratic Party, went on to say that "rather than base my support on amorphous and often misleading political labels" he'll wait to see how this new coalition works before supporting or opposing it.

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It's a characteristically deft political play.

For one thing, Cuomo is making the endorsement of the deal between Jeff Klein's breakaway Democrats and Dean Skelos' Republicans conditional, so he can take credit for the coalition arrangement if it's seen to be working and abandon it if the arrangement breaks down or otherwise becomes unseemly in the eyes of the voting public.

For another, Cuomo is taking the opportunity to make explicit his expectation that the Senate will work to implement his agenda, which he presents here as a "litmus test" that reads as broadly progressive but divergent from the union position on taxes and education reform. A present and future campaign platform, essentially:

Specifically, the “litmus test” for my support starts with support of the following ten issues:

1. The property tax cap that has finally imposed fiscal discipline on local governments and provided relief to taxpayers

2. Campaign finance reform

3. Increasing the minimum wage

4. Reform of New York City’s “stop and frisk” policy

5. Environmental protection and initiatives that address our changing climate

6. The education and Medicaid budget rate formulas that provided fiscal predictability and sustainability

7. The tax cuts that brought taxes on the middle class tax to the lowest rates in 58 years

8. Education reforms – like teacher evaluations – that bring more accountability to our schools and continued improvement to our SUNY system

9. Protecting a woman’s right to choose

10. Limited and highly regulated casinos introduced as economic development generators

And, preemptively addressing one of the great potential problems with this posture—Cuomo is a loyal Democrat who thinks his party is useful and great except when doesn't—the governor essentially makes his position on the Senate a carve-out, applicable in this instance because of the close division between the parties in the chamber and in particular because of the poor track record of the Democratic conference in the past.

Cuomo writes: "With margins this close, I expect the leadership situation to be fluid and subject to influence for some time. I can offer the people of the state my opinion at any time over the next two years, when practice has provided clarity."

So Cuomo does own this Senate coalition, politically. And he will continue to own it right up until the moment he decides not to.