Sen. John Flanagan was re-elected as the leader of the Republicans in the chamber on Friday afternoon, surviving a challenge to his leadership from upstate Sen. Cathy Young of Olean. But come January, he will be in charge of the minority party, after Democrats took control of the Senate for only the third time in the last century.
Flanagan says he is 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 says 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. Flanagan admits 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 says, 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.”
Young lost her bid to become the next Senate Minority leader but says she believes the conference can reunite with no hard feelings. She says she “sincerely congratulates” Senator Flanagan on his win.
“I believe that gave it my best shot. I felt very deeply that we needed to have change, just because of the devastating results of this past election,” said Young.
Senator Jim Tedisco of Schenectady, who backed Young, says he is disappointed, though, 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,” said Tedesco 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 form coming out.”
Flanagan agrees with Tedisco and says he is “scared to death about what’s coming,” including a proposal to provide drivers’ license to undocumented immigrants.
“We are stridently opposed to that,” said Flanagan, who also took a shot on at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a former ally, 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 says Flanagan has the right leadership qualities and has aided members to 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 say 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, that include the recent controversial $1.7 billion deal to help Amazon come to New York City.