NYS Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins Talks About Harris, NYS Budget And More | WAMC

NYS Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins Talks About Harris, NYS Budget And More

Nov 12, 2020

New York state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who made history in 2019 as the first woman to lead the chamber, is celebrating fellow Democrat Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris’s history-making victory. Stewart-Cousins spoke with WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne about the presidential race and local elections and more.

Oh, it was, for me, it was so- I mean, you know, it was elevating, it was exciting. And I- Every time, you know, a woman, woman of color breaks one of these- And, and people say "glass ceilings", and sometimes they're "concrete ceilings" almost, when, when we break it again, it underscores that the dream of America is still alive. And as, as Vice President-elect Harris said, during her speech, you know, "It sends the message to all of, all the little girls out there, no matter where they are, that, you know, they have a future that's, that's bright, and things are possible." And actually, you know, I think it sends a message to everyone. Because it just says that, you know, there is still tremendous possibility, and there is a lot of new ground to be covered, and persist, and persist. And I think Kamala will bring an amazing amount of not only experience and, and expertise and professionalism, but also, you know, bring- Be able to operate with compassion, and with the understanding that this is public service and it's, it's something that she has to do for all of America. As, obviously, President-elect Biden is expressing day to day, as we await this drama- The end of this drama.

And I don't have to tell you, if you can't see it, you don't think you can be it.

That's right.

And you know, it's just so important. And I'm wondering if during your time as Senate Majority Leader, you've had any experience in hearing about maybe, you know, little girls who look to you and say-

Always.

"Hey, I can do that, too."

Always. I mean- The thing is that for those of us who are in these positions, and I think even in your position, I was a journalist at some point. But when I was growing up, I didn't see any women in the role of a journalist, really, I mean, it has been quite exciting to see the amount of spaces and places that we are now filling, because we have the talent, and there were just barriers. And so I, all the time, hear from, from people that say, "You inspired me to do this, or that, or this or that." And of course, I'm not mindful of it, but that is, in large part what I set out to do as well. I want to be someone that, like you said, "If you can see me, you can be me." And I want to set an example of how I think this should be done on behalf of the people that we serve. And I want you to be inspired by my journey, my struggle, but my success. And know that if you do, you know, believe in yourself and you do the work, you have a greater possibility now than ever before, to achieve your goal.

Turning to state level elections, we have some races still yet to be called where, where Democrats in the Senate are in districts that can go either way. We have a lot of those in the Hudson Valley, north of you, as you know. And so, you know, we're kind of waiting to see what happens.

Yeah.

With that said, you're still going to be in the majority-

Yes.

It looks like. Why not the super majority? What, what part of the message-

Well I'm not sure, I haven't I haven't written off the super majority yet. As you said, there are a number of races that we are awaiting the counts, and there's more than a million absentee ballots that have yet to be counted all over the state. And we have seen that there's vast- In most cases, the absentee ballots- Obviously, the democrats are, are a good deal of those absentee ballots, and with the blanks, and the independents, and, and the unaffiliated. We have seen in some cases that they've broken as much as 70% towards, towards Democrats. So I would not say that we're not in the super majority yet. I would say that we have at this point, thankfully, "broken the curse", as I call it. That somehow we were not able to have a second term in a majority since 1936. So the fact that we have now been established, I've got about, about 36 kind of called races that I know, are Democrats. So we're, we've got 36 ready to go. And I've got eight that we're looking at that have yet to be decided. So I not discounting the super majority. I think it's the- It is well within the possibility. And we are again, still we are one of the largest majorities the Senate has ever seen. So I think we have a lot to, to be happy about. And obviously, we are cautiously optimistic about a lot of the races in the Hudson Valley that can go our way.

Well, then let me rephrase the question, with that information, and your take on it. Um, I think that the Republicans did better in some races than expected. And I'm wondering, was the message, did the message of the Democrats get out, or messages? Or what, what could have been done better? You know, I think the Republicans made obviously bail reform an enormous issue, and some political pundits are saying they were effective, whether it was true or not, their message was effective, and they got voters’ attention with that. Do you agree with that? And what do you think the Democrats did well, or could, could do better?

Well, again, I think it's premature for any declarations of victory or any- I still don't know what the outcome of eight races are. So I think this is a conversation that we can have after we have the outcome is if I have something to say, "Oh, we should have done this, or we should have done that." I think in terms of the messaging, Republicans have always been very good on exploiting people's fear, and seems to be, you know, a habitual focus on, on misrepresenting and, and stoking fear wherever they can, which I think is really the sad reality of their messaging. But, as I said, I still have a majority and I still have the possibility of a super majority. So until we can actually say that something went wrong. I'm not willing to say anything went wrong.

You know, the budget is a monster, particularly, obviously during COVID. Would you consider tax hikes as part of the budgeting process, is this something that's on the table? Obviously, this is a big topic of late.

I know, it is a big topic. And it's a topic that's unavoidable. Because we are, as you said, in a terrible situation. We have been hoping that there would be some resolution in Congress that would benefit state and local governments, because it is very, very clear that we have a huge deficit. It's about $14 billion this year, and we haven't gotten into the next fiscal year's yet. So clearly, we can't get out of this by ourselves. And we do need the help of our federal partners. So that being said, I've always said that everything is on the table, because it's necessary for us to include all of the possibilities that we have, that will help us to navigate these very, very difficult waters. That being said, again, we have to know that we can't, whatever we did, just by ourselves is not enough to get us out of the situation we are in. So I am happy, frankly, that there is a President-elect Joe Biden, because at least we have an ally as opposed to an adversary.

Okay, let's talk about the possibility of legalizing recreational marijuana in New York in 2021. What, what are the chances there? I mean, New Jersey voters just said yes, on the ballot. Connecticut now says "We're looking at it." Governor Cuomo, when asked said he thinks "The time is right."

Well, I've always thought that it would be a matter of when not if. Our conversation is always been about doing it the right way. Our conversation has been very much like New Jersey. And I think that's why New Jersey sort of punted and went to the ballot initiative, because they could not figure out amongst themselves, and now of course, it's going to go back to them to figure it out. But for us, it's what happens with the revenue, whether or not we are able to help the communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the, the enforcement in those communities of these marijuana laws that have been so very, very detrimental. And we are also looking at how we can have a more inclusive economic environment as far as who gets to be part of the industry, as well as education as it relates to drug use in general. So it has always been about revenue and education and inclusion, in terms of how, how we get it done.