With the state legislative session set to end June 19, WAMC's News Director Ian Pickus spoke with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on The Roundtable Monday, June 16, 2019.
Welcome back to the Roundtable. I am Ian Pickus, I am filling in for Alan Chartock on this Monday morning, and joining us now is the Governor of New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo. Good morning.
Hello, how are you Ian? Good morning to you.
I am doing well. I am doing well. Trying to keep the seat warm for Alan and hopefully the next time you come on it will be with him.
Good, everything is good with the Doctor?
Everything is good and he has given me some good advice for this interview I think, which was ask the questions. So, I am going to do that. There have been reports about three way talks for end of session issues over the weekend. What is the latest? What can get done between now and when lawmakers leave?
Okay, here is the latest. And look, I said last week you know we go through stages of the legislative process. You advocate aggressively for everything you can, and I feel very good about my advocacy efforts right after Memorial Day, basically. We communicated to the entire state the pressing issues, and I think we are making phenomenal progress. I already believed we were going to have the most progressively productive session in modern political history. But, with the recent conversations I think that is for certain. Last week, as you know, we handled the measles issue. We passed the new rent laws. I believe we have an agreement on the statute of limitations for rape in the second and third degree, which is a very big deal on our Women's Justice Agenda. I believe we have an agreement ending the Gay Panic Defense, which was codifying homophobia. I believe we have an agreement on the law on sexual harassment, changing the standard - lowering the standard - legal standard, for sexual harassment against women. So, women have more protection. I believe we have an agreement on equal pay for women, who still make 88 cents to a man's dollar. We have an agreement extending the Minority and Women Business Enterprise Program, which is the most aggressive program in the United States. I believe we are going to have an agreement on the farm worker's bill, which has been talked about for many years and my three daughters on father's day were very happy about that. They have been fighting personally for that for a long time. I believe we have an agreement on the climate change bill. So, that is all phenomenal progress.
The open, pending if you will, come down to a couple or three issues that we have left. On the marijuana recreational adult use, it is not legalizing marijuana, it is for recreational adult use. The main issue there is how much the state mandates. This is an issue that divides the state regionally and also generationally in some ways. Do we mandate that localities must do things or do we leave the decisions to the local governments?
Let's talk about that. Should localities be able to opt in to this rather than opt out, would you support that?
Well, there is two questions Ian. First, is what level? Is it just county or is it local government? In other words, if a county opts in, must all local governments then be included. Second option, it is not the county that opts in. It is the locality that opts in or out. So, it is not what Albany County does, the city of Albany can control itself. That is what we are talking through. I think there is a balance that we have to achieve here, but I don't think we can run roughshod over local governments, nor should we. On the surrogacy bill, the Senate passed it, the Assembly hasn't passed it. This is the bill that forty seven other states already have. Surrogacy, where an infertile couple can make an arrangement with a woman to carry a fetus. Gestational surrogacy, forty seven states have it, we don't have it. I think it's disrespectful to the LGBTQ community. The LGBTQ community has lobbied heavily on the Assembly. They believe they have the votes in the Assembly. Now, it's one thing for a legislator to say they support it, another thing for them to actually vote it. So, I hope at a minimum the LGBTQ community deserves a vote on surrogacy from the Assembly so they know who's for them and who's against them, and who told the truth and who didn't.
Prevailing wage is an issue that is getting politicized. I support raising the prevailing wage. I am a pro-union governor, I always have been. How it's done is often the secret mystery with all these things. You know, government is full of good intention and poor implementation. If you do prevailing wage wrong, you'll actually cost union jobs. So, I disagree with the bills of the Houses right now. If we can make an agreement, we'll make an agreement. Otherwise I told them I'm going to veto a bad bill, because I'm not going to lose jobs when we worked so hard to create them.
We are discussing solitary confinement. I agree that we have to do reforms, that it's gone way too far. Much of the treatment is inhumane. I don't want to build $300 million in new prison cells. I am proud that I've closed more prison cells than any governor in the history of the State of New York and I'm not about to build $300 million more in jail cells. That's just totally inconsistent with everything that we're doing. So, that we're trying to work through. And then there's the issue of drivers licenses that we're trying to work through. So, those are the open issues, but the closed issues are just a phenomenal list of accomplishments and I think everyone is going to go with their head held high. And remember, this is a very aggressive agenda that was put on the table first by me and then you had a lot of advocacy groups pushing their own particular positions with members. So, you're trying to do the right politics, but you're also trying to do the right policy and they can often be different things.
Let me drill down into that if I may, governor. Let me just jump in here. Let's go back to the marijuana question. Do you think that marijuana should be decriminalized even if there's no market set up during this session between now and the end of the week?
I think we should do it all together. I don't think we should do one component now and then come back and do another component. Let's just do it. We understand it, we've talked about it. Let's make the hard decisions and let's make them now,
Does that mean that if the market is not established, if we don't legalize adult-use recreational marijuana this week, that the decriminalization will have to wait until next year?
Well, theoretically, you could scramble and we have three days left, right? You could scramble and come up with a totally different bill. But I'm not ready to give up yet.
I want to ask about one other thing.
I tend to give up on hour twenty when there's four hours left in the session, just as a hint. Chartock knows that, he's watched me long enough.
Yes, he has.
But I'm not ready to give up yet.
We did not ask you about the rent laws specifically, which were passed after our last conversation on WAMC. Were you happy with the outcome there? Because you sort of come back and said on this show a lot of times let the Senate and the Assembly come to an agreement and then I'll sign whatever they can pass. Were you ultimately okay with what they passed?
Yeah. I said I will pass--look, I spent my life on housing. I started in my twenties building housing for the homeless. I was the nation's housing secretary. So, I said the best bill they can pass I will support and I think they passed a very good bill.
Okay. Back to the Green Light Bill now. Obviously, the Democrats in the Senate have some concerns about the political end of it. So, do the Democrats risk losing the Chamber over this particular bill?
Look, this is, the driver's license is an issue that is very controversial in this state, second only to marijuana. And people have very strong feelings, and you have President Trump who became president by running against immigrants and this bill is basically seen as a pro-immigrant bill. So there's no doubt that there's a political downside, depending on the part of the state that you're in. But look, that's the story with all these issues, right? All the tough ones—guns, a woman's right to choose—these are all intensely personal, principled issues for people and yes, you make enemies when you pass one of these bills. I passed gun control, I think the smartest thing we did right after Sandy Hook in Connecticut, the first massacre that was before the past five years of massacres. And the gun people never forgave me and my polling numbers went down. My father was against the death penalty and he paid a terrible political price. But, that's, you know, you're here to do the right thing even if it's the tough thing. I don't think it's the politics on driver's licenses.
What is it?
It's how we write the bill, is the legal challenge.
Okay, what do you mean?
The driver's license politically, we understand the pros and cons, there are 12 states that have passed it. We have to write a law that does not have an unintended consequence, that's what the smart people are worried about. In other words, you could be creating a database for the feds to use to actually track down undocumented people. And that's the balance, this is a legal question more than anything else. California passed a law and they are now in litigation because the federal government is using their DMV, Department of Motor Vehicles, database to target undocumented people. So, you create a driver's license for undocumented people, you just have to make sure that you do it in a way that the feds don't come in the next day and access that database with the exact opposite intention. We went through this in, well New York City went through this when the federal government, I think subpoenaed their information on the New York City ID cards that they had done for undocumented people. New York City, their only option was to destroy the data because they couldn't prevent turning it over. We can't destroy Department of Motor Vehicle data, so that's the legal challenge. And I'm going to be asking the Solicitor General in the Attorney General's office, who does the legal opinions for the State of New York, to review the law and assure us that the federal government will not be able to access the information or subpoena the information.
Well can they get that done before Wednesday?
Yeah. We will have a draft bill and it's as simple as—well not as simple as—but the Solicitor General will have to review the bill and make sure we're not creating a problem by what we're doing and that's how the bill is written and constructed. But the Solicitor General is really good. Barbara Underwood—I actually worked with her when I was Attorney General—and she's done a great job. She was the Acting Attorney General for a while. She's argued many cases, so she's a top notch lawyer and I feel confident relying on her opinion and I think the legislature should too.
But this issue about whether ICE could find a way into the data through this back door somewhere down the line—that's not the holdup for some of these marginal senate Democrats, is it?
No. I think many people will have a political issue. Look, it is an unpopular issue, there's no doubt.
Although the Siena poll showed it has gained in popularity over the course of the session by a few points.
Yeah, but it is still unpopular. And depending on where you are in the state—it's very popular in New York City. It tends to be popular in the upstate cities. It's very unpopular in more suburban and rural areas, but look, this is one of those issues. I'll go back to guns. I was in the Clinton administration. They passed the assault weapons ban and the midterm elections—we lost the many Congress people and Democrats lost control of the Congress. Yeah—but those people did the right thing. I passed a gun bill, I went down 15 points in the polls, but I think I did the right thing. I passed marriage equality, it was controversial. We just passed Reproductive Health Act, which is a woman's right to choose. That made the Catholic Church and many pro-life people very, very unhappy. So yes, there are political consequences, there's no doubt.
Let me ask you about a few other issues in the minutes we have left here. Automatic voter registration—would you sign that bill?
It depends on how it's written. I have not—I don't know the update on that, to tell you the truth.
Do you think it's a good idea though?
I think the concept is right. I don't know where we are in the negotiation over the past couple of weeks.
Okay—you mentioned earlier, I think it was in one of your paragraphs about the issues that are remaining—this Community Climate Protection Act. So where are you on that one today?
I believe we have an agreement. I believe it's going to pass.
Okay—what's changed? Because a few weeks ago you, I don't think you were as full throated in support of it.
Yeah. It was a question of the distribution of the funding. I just want to make sure, you know I understand the politics on these issues and everybody wants to make all these advocacy groups happy. Taxpayers' money is taxpayers' money and if it's taxpayers' money for an environmental purpose, I want to make sure it's going to an environmental purpose. This transformation to the new green economy is very expensive and we don't have the luxury of using funding for political purposes. If it's environmental money, it should go for environmental purposes, but I believe we've worked that out.
Okay, what about electronic bikes and scooters? There's a lot of support in New York City to legalize those vehicles. What do you think?
There has been, there have been discussions, but I do not know where that was left, frankly.
Well do you think it's a good idea?
Yeah. I think the general concept is a good idea. I understand the traffic concerns and you would need safety precautions, but yeah I think it's a good idea.
So let's go back and look at the big picture for the session. You came on the show a while back and talked with Dr. Chartock about your top ten issues. From your vantage point, from now until the end of the week, what are the top three priorities from your end?
Well top ten, we have accomplished the overwhelming majority. So half full half empty. I went through the all the issues that I just stood up on and highlighted with Mira Sorvino and Andy Cohen, etc., the women's issues the issues that are important to the LGBTQ community. I think we're going to get that done, the open issue there is surrogacy. I would be very disappointed if it didn't pass.
Were you surprised that Gloria Steinem came out against that?
I think she didn't have the facts. I know she didn't have the facts. I think there is frankly a generational issue on this also where women respond differently. Older women versus younger women. I understand the concerns and I believe we can have the protections to protect women's rights, our bill is the most protective in the United States of America. Right now you can go to forty seven states and contract for surrogacy. In this state, the woman has to have an attorney. The woman has to have a health advisor. It has to be reviewed by the Department of Health and it cannot be because the woman is in financial straits and it cannot be because she needs the funding. We don't even want women to be in a position here they could be exploited in any way. But on the other hand we just finished arguing a women's right to choose, my body my choice. A woman can choose to end a pregnancy. Why a woman shouldn't fully informed, with counsel be allowed to bring a life into this world? And you listen to these stories of an infertile couple who couldn't have a baby and there are women who say, "You know what if I can carry a fetus and bring a life into this world, I would like to do that." So, give them the choice as long as their rights are protected. But, I do believe the Assembly should take the vote up. I don't believe in this they say privately they support something but then they don't take the vote so nobody really knows how they stand, right? That's not transparency and we're better than that. The prevailing wage, driver's license, and marijuana are the three big outstanding issues.
So true or false, by the time this thing is over sometime this week, New York will be on the verge of having legal, recreational marijuana for legal, adult use?
I would believe it to be true, but I would not say true or false as if it was a measure of my credibility. We don't know. We don't know. I believe we can come an agreement that would pass. But I don't know.
Have you had a chance since the last time we asked you about it, to review Gottfried's bill that would decriminalize sex work for women?
I have not read the bill. And I don't believe at this stage in the session you can pick up that bill, educate yourself on the issue, and have reasonable conversation. That will go down on one of those controversial items list. Guns, reproductive health, et cetera. You can put right up there legalizing prostitution. I don't think people are going to do that on forty-eight hour notice.
Governor Cuomo we are out of time. I want to thank you for coming on and doing an interview with me in Alan's stead. I sort of had a little Alan on my shoulder for this one, I think, and appreciate your time.
But you know Alan, you know how I feel about Alan. I just don't want this to get back to Alan, so it's just between us.
It's on the radio.
But being from Massachusetts I think he has a Massachusetts bias that has frankly affected his New York sensitivity. And certain nuances of important issues. I want to leave you with that Ian. Because you live in Massachusetts, could you have had your judgment skewed? You're a red sox fan which already in my mind means your judgement in mind is questionable.
He's not even here to defend himself.
No that's why I'm taking these cheap shots.
Governor Cuomo it should be noted that Governor Baker of Massachusetts has a standing invitation to do this show. So maybe some time the three of you could get together on the show.
And by the way, Mr. Chartock has taken many shots at me when I was not on the air. So I would need the next eight years to come even close.
We'll keep the conversation coming, thanks very much.
Governor Cuomo: Thanks Ian, thanks very much.