Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Going. Going. Gaughan!

I have long supported the efforts of Kevin Gaughan, the political activist hell-bent on streamlining Western New York governments.

Gaughan can legitimately claim being at least partly responsible for the reduction of members in two county governments, and six towns, as well as the elimination of a village.

And now Gaughan has set his eyes on Albany, wishing to reduce the state Senate, followed by the Assembly. His plan is to make 62 senators into 50 and 150 assemblymen into 125.

He says the reduction in the Senate, alone, will save $12 million a year. In a time when we’re all looking for two nickels to rub together, $12 million is a whole lot of rubbing.

Gaughan even has the theoretical support of state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, who told him he has concerns, but generally is supportive of the plan.

I had my own concerns — particularly the diluting of the people’s voice in Albany with each state senator serving as many as 400,000 people under Gaughan’s plan. Right now, each senator has 322,000 constituents.

So Monday morning, I set out to put those concerns to rest with a phone call to Gaughan, himself.

“First of all, your question assumes that people have a voice in New York government,” he told me. “Virtually every New Yorker knows that the representative has no voice in government.”

“The fundamental purpose to reduce the number of politicians is to increase people’s voice,” Gaughan said, adding that when the real decisions get made, the state goes back to its tried-and-true method of “three men in a room.”

OK, he kind of got me there.

In addition, he said, bigger is not necessarily better. In lean times private companies roll back the number of employees they have to make ends meet. “Government should undergo the same change.”

Plus, Gaughan said, New York has one of the largest state governments in the union. And the cost of running that government is unmatched by even the largest of states.

“I think having two bodies with 212 members … I think there was a time when New York state could afford that,” he said. And that time is long gone.

“To ask people to have the highest cost for the New York State Legislature and have the least voice, calls for a change,” he said.

Gaughan continued, saying that real reform will require term limits, campaign finance reform and redistricting reform, which will prevent the legislators from gerrymandering their districts to ensure the 99 percent re-election rate they have enjoyed for years.

“Each of those reforms have been talked about and yearned for, for over 50 years,” he said. And while he certainly supports those three measures, his baby has been government reduction, which he says is equally important, but still just a part of the solution.

“To solve this problem, nothing's going to work ... but everything might,” he said.

Kevin and I were on the phone no more than five minutes. At the end of that five minutes, I agreed wholeheartedly. And I wish him the best.