Flanagan to lead state Senate minority in 2019
State Senate GOP Leader John Flanagan was re-elected as the leader of the Republicans in that chamber on Friday, surviving a challenge from upstate Sen. Cathy Young of Olean.
But come January, he’ll be in charge of the minority party. In elections earlier this month, Democrats won enough seats to take control of the Senate for only the third time in the last century.
Flanagan said he’s pleased by his 14-9 win, and believes that despite the leadership challenge, Republicans will present a united front to the Democrats in 2019. But he said he knows things will be different now that the Republicans will be in the minority for the first time in nearly a decade.
Former committee chairs will lose those posts, along with the stipends of several thousand dollars, though many could remain as ranking minority members on the committees. And Flanagan said that some staffers will lose their jobs.
"I know so many people who have 20, 25, 30 years invested here who are incredible public servants," Flanagan said. "So this is tough on a number of different levels."
But he said he accepts the results of the election.
"I believe in democracy, I believe in elections, I don’t always have to agree with the results," he said. "The public reminds us of who is in charge. We have to earn back their support and confidence. And I think we can do that."
While Young lost her bid to become the next Senate minority leader, she said she believes the conference can reunite with no hard feelings. She also said she "sincerely congratulates" Flanagan on his win.
"I believe that I gave it my best shot," Young said. "I felt very deeply that we needed to have change, just because of the devastating results of this past election."
But Sen. Jim Tedisco of Schenectady, who backed Young, said he’s disappointed that an upstate senator will not be leading the Senate GOP, since Republicans did far better in that region, winning 19 seats, than on Long Island and New York City, where they lost several seats.
Tedisco predicts the Democrats’ agenda of stricter gun control, strengthened abortion rights and single-payer health care will be costly and ultimately unpopular.
"Even the governor understands, that will double the cost in the budget," Tedisco said of the single-payer health care plan. "So our job is to make the case, be strong for upstaters, and try to mitigate some of these bills from coming out."
Flanagan agreed with Tedisco and said he’s "scared to death about what’s coming," including a proposal to provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
"We are stridently opposed to that," said Flanagan, who also took a shot at former ally Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying, "The governor owns this."
Flanagan did get the backing of several upstate senators, including the North Country’s Betty Little, the Utica area’s Joe Griffo and Binghamton’s Fred Akshar, who said Flanagan has the right leadership qualities and has helped members get help for their districts.
"When the people that I so proudly represent need something in the Southern Tier, I bring it back to the leader and it’s vetted through the appropriate channels," Akshar said. "I’m able to produce for the people I represent, and that’s incredibly important to me."
The Republicans said they will continue to push for their core priorities, including imposing a hard spending cap on the state budget, and making the property tax cap permanent. They say they also want to rein in some of the governor’s economic development programs, including the recent controversial $1.7 billion deal to help Amazon come to New York City.