- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

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The Auburn Citizen on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order to restore felon voting rights

April 22

In announcing an executive order that could restore voting rights to up to 35,000 convicted felons on parole, Gov. Andrew Cuomo talked about how the existing law on the books “diminishes our democracy.”



Predictably, much of the debate that erupted after the announcement last week centered on whether murderers and rapists and other violent criminals should ever get the right to vote. There’s a fairly robust discussion among criminal justice experts about the topic.

We believe it’s a debate well worth having - and it should be done in the context of proposed state legislation that all New Yorkers can review and consider.

Unfortunately, Cuomo’s actions are an attempt to circumvent the legislative process, a process that’s also a fundamental part of our representative democracy. New Yorkers elect legislators every two years and a governor every four years to go to Albany and propose, debate and ultimately vote on legislation.

Although he failed to officially propose any laws tied to restoring paroled felons’ voting rights, the governor reportedly did try to make it an aspect of the closed-door budget negotiations this year - and he ultimately lost.

As a result, he came up with a radical approach to getting his way. His order is allowing for partial pardons for these 35,000 felons in the parole system. State corrections officials will review the cases and red-flag any that should not be given this break from the governor, a process sure to take up valuable time and money. We’re also expecting that this move will face a costly legal challenge in the court system.

As that plays out, we encourage the governor and the people who agree with the policy intention of his latest move to go about this the correct way. Put forward a proposed change in the law, make the case to the New York people who will be going to the polls this fall to choose among candidates who could be for or against the measure, and then allow the legislative process to play out with the legislators who are elected.

A convoluted executive order aimed at avoiding this process also diminishes our democracy.

Online: https://bit.ly/2HI8zNQ

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The New York Times on the birth of the new “Royal Baby” in England

April 23

It was an English monarch who purportedly said, “No news is better than evil news,” and thereby launched an enduring (though now somewhat less wordy) maxim. Unless, King James I should have added, it’s news about his successors.

From the time Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, entered the maternity hospital until she and her husband, Prince William, emerged with their newborn boy 12 hours later, the minutiae of the royal birth on Monday dominated the news in Britain - and not only there. The arrival of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in Washington was no competition for the suspense in London, broken shortly after 11 a.m. not by the traditional notice in a wooden frame posted by the gates of Buckingham Palace (that came later, carried out by two women in morning coats, black ties and bright red waistcoats) but by a tweet from Kensington Palace that the duchess “was safely delivered of a son.”

Before and after that there was little the inquiring public would not learn. It was “breaking news” when Prince William brought his other children, little Prince George, still in his school uniform, and Princess Charlotte, who gave an oh-so-precious wave to the crowd, to visit their new brother. The royal obstetrician and royal gynecologist - “royal” was the word of the day - were richly profiled. The fact that Lady Gabriella Windsor, the daughter of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, had been born in the same hospital on the same day, only 37 years earlier, was presented as a remarkable coincidence. Westminster Abbey announced it would ring a full peal of “Cambridge Surprise Royal” on Tuesday; tabloids noted with disapproval that the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, took more than three hours to send his greetings to “Kate and William.”

And so it went. That which did remain unknown by day’s end - the baby’s name and the godparents - was endlessly discussed. Bookmakers were putting odds on Arthur, Albert, Frederick, James and Philip; as for sponsors, the speculation was that a third child with few chances of ever ascending the throne would not need a roster of prominent godparents like his siblings.

Was it too much? Of course, but when offered alongside all the other “evil news” of White House iniquities, shooting rampages and other horrors, it’s barely enough, as Mark Twain might have put it.

Though the British royalty went through a rough patch in the 1990s with a rash of divorces, scandals and salacious leaks and the death of Prince William’s mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, today Queen Elizabeth II, who turned 92 on Saturday, presides over a curiously sympathetic and attractive mix of archaic tradition, fairy-tale titles and very modern lives. While the duchess was giving royal birth, her brother-in-law Prince Harry and his fiancée, Meghan Markle, an American actress, were attending a memorial service on the 25th anniversary of the death of Stephen Lawrence, murdered in a racially motivated attack.

So stay tuned. They should be announcing the name(s) of His New Royal Highness any day now.

Online: https://nyti.ms/2HrNPdZ

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Newsday on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt

April 24

It’s no secret we haven’t always seen eye to eye with Donald Trump. But Mr. President, when you promised to drain the swamp in Washington, we were completely on board. Pull the plug!

So how is it Scott Pruitt is still employed? The head of the Environmental Protection Agency personifies the behavior you vowed to end.

To be clear, we’re not talking about Pruitt’s policy-related work. He’s favoring coal and oil over renewable energy, casting doubt on climate change, trying to get rid of common-sense regulations and attempting to limit the use of science in decision-making. We disagree strongly with all of that, too, but that’s politics.

And it’s not a question of whether Pruitt has the administrative chops to run a big agency. He does. He’s no Dr. Ronny Jackson, the embattled nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. At this point, senators of both parties have expressed enough concerns about Jackson’s qualifications to tame that bureaucracy as well as his supervision of the White House medical staff that it’s probably best if he withdraws.

The issue is Pruitt’s ethics, Mr. President, and how they violate your promise.

Like all his first-class flights, including the $120,000 taxpayer-funded trip to Italy for him and his companions. Then, after being stopped from flying first class, he explored a $100,000-a-month charter aircraft membership to give himself de facto first-class travel all the time. Pruitt cited threats to his safety later dismissed by EPA investigators.

His security detail is a 24/7, 20-person crew that’s three times bigger than his predecessor’s. It has accompanied him to sporting events and on family outings. He got bullet-resistant seat covers in his SUV and wanted a bulletproof vehicle. And, of course, the $43,000 soundproof booth to keep his office conversations private. Seems as if he thinks he’s the president.

Pruitt also got a sweetheart deal on a condo rental in Washington from the wife of a lobbyist whose firm deals with the EPA. And an earlier sweetheart mortgage deal back home in Oklahoma from a banker who was later banned for life from banking, but somehow was fit enough to now be a top aide to Pruitt.

Mr. President, one of your first orders was that new employees sign a pledge to not work on issues they had lobbied on in the past two years. Pruitt circumvented that by using an obscure law on water safety to make “crisis” hires of former lobbyists without an OK from you or the Senate. Isn’t that insubordination? He used the same law to give big raises to two staffers who previously worked for him.

The number of investigations your own administration is doing on Pruitt’s ethics and spending habits hit double digits last week.

Mr. President, we understand that you’re pleased that Pruitt is carrying out your agenda. But you don’t need someone corrupt to do that.

We’ve complained about your reality TV approach to governing. But, Mr. President, for your sake, tell Pruitt he’s fired.

Online: https://nwsdy.li/2vINiir

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The Oneonta Daily Star on Freedom of Information Law in New York state

April 23

Many words come to mind when discussing politics in New York - corruption, secrecy and cronyism.

Transparency is certainly not one of them.

Want to know what was discussed in conferences about pending legislation? You are out of luck.

Want to know if how many sexual harassment complaints were filed against members of the state Legislature? You can’t.

Want to know if your senator has followed up on an issue you asked him to? If he won’t tell you, too bad.

In the wake of corruption scandals that have resulted in the criminal convictions of two former legislative leaders - Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos - Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a records access law for the state Legislature, putting everyone under the same set of Freedom of Information Law guidelines. But lawmakers have blocked the governor’s proposal.

New York government watchdogs say greater access is needed to the inner workings of the state Legislature to make lawmakers more accountable to the people they represent at the statehouse.

Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, and Assemblyman Brian D. Miller, R-New Hartford, said they favor more transparency in government, but with some restrictions. Three other lawmakers who represent our area - State Sen. Fred Akshar, R-Binghamton; Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope; and Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-Nelson - didn’t respond to requests for comment last week.

“We are taxpayer funded, so the public has a right to know what goes on in Albany,” Miller said. “The public should have access to legislative documents, but we must ensure there are safeguards in place to protect individuals’ privacy.”

Watchdog groups said they have no interest in pushing for information that would identify private citizens who ask their representative for assistance on government programs or jeopardizing confidentiality on initial sexual harassment complaints until an investigative determination is made.

The Associated Press reported that it tried to find out about sexual harassment complaints at all 50 statehouses across the country. But the AP noted that the records were not supplied by the state Assembly and Senate in Albany because such documents are not covered by FOIL.

The state’s law says access to government information “should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality.”

“As state and local government services increase and public problems become more sophisticated and complex and therefore harder to solve, and with the resultant increase in revenues and expenditures, it is incumbent upon the state and its localities to extend public accountability wherever and whenever feasible,” the law declares.

But the availability of lawmakers’ records is greatly limited by rules imposed by lawmakers decades ago.

The limitations include barriers to closed-door legislative conferences at which members of the majority and minority party caucuses discuss proposed legislation in detail before any public debate takes place on the floor of the Assembly or Senate.

This is exactly where light needs to shine.

“New York’s government is very happy to spoon-feed the information it wants people to have and not allow citizen oversight,’” said Susan Lerner, director of Common Cause New York.

Having the ability to access the records of lawmakers could help citizens gauge how their representatives are performing, said Jennifer Wilson, legislative director of the New York chapter of the League of Women Voters.

To keep our lawmakers honest, FOIL laws must be fully expanded to our legislative bodies.

Online: https://bit.ly/2HqoLE7

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The Wall Street Journal on the ongoing protests in Nicaragua

April 24

The U.S. Embassy in Managua removed all nonessential personnel and family members from Nicaragua on Monday after five days of violent clashes between antigovernment protestors and dictator Daniel Ortega’s enforcers. The trouble may not be over.

Mr. Ortega is the Sandinista revolutionary who first came to power in 1979 with Soviet and Cuban backing. During more than a decade of rule, he and his comrades grabbed millions of dollars in private property and homes. This cleanup - known as “the piñata” - by self-described champions of the poor is a great lesson in socialism. Mr. Ortega agreed to an election in 1990, believing he could win. But international observers defended the vote, and the Sandinistas were ousted.

Unfortunately they kept control of the military, and in 1999 center-right President Arnoldo Aleman cut a deal with Mr. Ortega, who led the Sandinista Party. Mr. Aleman agreed to lower to 35 percent the threshold for victory in a first-round presidential election. In exchange, Mr. Ortega agreed to ensure that Mr. Aleman wouldn’t go to jail on corruption charges.

In 2006 Ortega squeaked into the presidency with 38 percent of the vote and immediately began to consolidate power with the help of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, who sent oil shipments on long-term credit. While Nicaragua’s debt was swelling, Mr. Ortega was selling the oil at market prices and racking up profits. He also took control of the country’s Supreme Court and electoral council. Much of the business community turned a blind eye to his power grab because they were invited to share the wealth.

Now the Venezuelan gusher has dried up and so has Mr. Ortega’s support. The protests began small after the government announced that it would cut old-age pensions and require larger contributions from workers. But after enforcers tried to quell the protests, thousands took to the streets.

News reports show that thugs on motorcycles beat pension protesters with pipes and electrical cords. A journalist in Bluefields was assassinated by a bullet to the head while on the air. Eyewitnesses report police looting shops. The government has pulled the plug on more than one television station.

The newspaper La Prensa, one of the bravest voices in Nicaragua, weighed in Monday with an editorial “Ortega Has to Go.” A number of former revolutionaries, including Mr. Ortega’s brother Humberto and former junta vice president Sergio Ramírez Mercado, have broken with Daniel and appealed to others in the country to stop the violence.

But even if Mr. Ortega’s business partners in the military brass agree, a succession path is not clear. Mr. Ortega’s vice president is his wife, and the head of congress is a loyal henchman. The Trump Administration ought to raise its voice on behalf of Nicaraguans who want a second revolt against a dictator.

Online: https://on.wsj.com/2HYNxrP

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