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Senate Rascals Need Turning Out, But it Won't Be Easy

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There's a time-honored battle cry in politics: turn the rascals out!

In history, these words usually applied to the politicians the reformers wanted to oust. But that isn't always the easiest thing to do.

The never-ending maneuvers of both parties in the epic Battle of Albany make it clear that the rascals today are on both sides of the aisle. The Republicans are no better than the Democrats and vice versa. They are playing games with each other. The Democrats passed a lot of bills and claimed they were valid because one Republican, seeking a Coke, happened to set foot for a moment in the chamber. That meant, the Democrats said, that technically a majority of senators was present and, therefore, their votes counted.

And so it goes, on and on. The people are furious. Is there a remedy?

Eighteen states have a way of getting rid of unwanted officials. They have a law that permits such officials to be recalled, that is, ousted from office. California has a recall law. That's how the voters turned Gov. Gray Davis out of office in 2003, paving the way for Arnold Schwarzenegger to get elected governor.

But does it work? Susan Lerner is the executive director of the locally based reform organization Common Cause. She comes from California, where she witnessed the Gray Davis ouster. Davis was accused of raising an exorbitant amount of campaign money and of cutting government in the wrong places. Schwarzenegger, she says, was elected and committed the same sins, but to an even greater degree.

Common Cause has not taken a position on having a recall law in New York. But Ms. Lerner's personal opinion is that it may result in actions being taken "in the heat of the moment," that sound decisions can't be governed by political passions.

Common Cause has just launched a statewide campaign to mobilize outraged citizens. "We are urging our thousands of members," she said, "to let their senators have an earful, to let them know that they have to stop playing politics as usual."

"We are asking our members to give their senator a message: "Get back to work and stick with it.'"

That may or may not make a dent in the Albany stalemate. But, since clearly the senators are motivated by such basic emotions as selfishness and greed, perhaps appealing to their baser instincts is the only way to change this picture.

If they get the idea that the only way they'll get their pork barrel projects passed is to cooperate with each other than maybe they will finally clear up this stalemate.

That may be the sad truth.

Gabe Pressman originally wrote this article for NBC New York.