THE BLOG
03/22/2012 02:51 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2012

New York's Incumbency Protection Plan Hits on All Cylinders

Wow, it looks as if the Republican presidential contest is almost over. New York is once again going to be too late in the game to have any national input.

Normally, I wouldn't be at all irritated. How important is it to get to decide between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum? But we're having statewide primaries on three different days this year. Three! And we couldn't even manage to make one of them modestly interesting.

Here's the story: The state legislature likes to have primaries at a ridiculously late date -- in September. You will hear a lot of explanations for why this is a wonderful idea, but the real one is that it protects incumbents. It's hard for non-insiders to get organized in time to mount a serious campaign.

You obviously can't have a presidential primary in September. The conventions would already be over. Get real. So, every four years New York has two different statewide primaries, at considerable cost to all concerned.

Then -- whoops -- a federal judge ruled that September was also too late for a congressional primary that required the processing of military ballots. The congressional candidates got a date in June.

The primary count had reached three. The estimated price tag is about $150 million. Obviously, the sane thing to do was to move the legislative primaries to June, too. Governor Cuomo and the Assembly Democrats said okay. But Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate leader, gave thumbs down.

Here are Skelos' public explanations:

-- Petitions would have to be circulated in March, making things "very difficult" for legislators in the northern parts of the state.

The majority leader floated this one before New York experienced its current March toastiness. But even in normal weather, I think we can assume that people who live out their lives in Watertown would be capable of going door-to-door in the cold. And that's if you assume that incumbent state lawmakers are actually forced to walk from house to house, desperately seeking the requisite signatures to get them on the ballot.

-- Lawmakers would be preparing for the primaries just as the legislature was moving into the end of the session, disrupting "the orderly functioning legislature that we've seen since Gov. Cuomo has come into office."

Here, Skelos presumes that his listeners don't actually know what goes on in the New York State legislature. The number of incumbent lawmakers who are challenged in primaries usually ranges from zero to one. And if critical political emergencies arose, the leadership could spare every member of the rank-and-file who wasn't needed to make up a quorum. It's not as if there's any voting going on that couldn't be phoned in by party line.

Besides running the tab up to $150 million, Skelos is guaranteeing that any primaries that do occur in September will involve absolutely no voters beyond the party hard core. How many average voters are going to show up at the polls for a contest involving one or two nominations for the state legislature?

The party machines, which already run the show, have now all but packed up the voting machines and moved them into their clubhouse basement.

And don't forget that the state legislature's heavily gerrymandered redistricting scheme already represents a dream Incumbency Protection Plan for Democrats and Republicans alike. Seats already more secure than those in the North Korean People's Assembly have been made safer still with three primaries.