The election of Donald Trump to the White House has brought with it a series of new debates at the state level in Albany, including a new wave of criticism for state Sen. Jeffrey Klein and his Independent Democratic Conference.
When the smoke settled on November’s election results, it became clear senate Democrats had not garnered the seats necessary to take control from Republicans, and Klein and his eight-member conference decided to not only remain separate from Democrats, but also maintain their coalition with Republicans.
It was then voters started calling Klein’s office really complaining.
“I did get some calls, I must have gotten, all together, 15 (to) 18 calls,” Klein said. “I called everyone back. Most of them understood when I kind of laid it out. Some of them were clearly motivated, politically. Some of them I’m not even sure were my constituents.”
Some of Klein’s critics have organized against the IDC, namely groups like Indivisible 16, Rise and Resist, and some Citizens Action Network groups. But the senator believes mainline Democrats are misleading some of them.
“If they’re operating under a narrative that’s not true that somehow we are empowering Republicans, then yeah, they’re going to be mad,” Klein said.
But the IDC isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, Klein said, citing some recent policy victories like raising the age of criminal responsibility and providing funding for immigrant legal services — policy items that are contrary to the national Republican agenda.
“If I feel that we can’t continue to get the core things that we want to do in the Independent Democratic Conference, then yeah, I don’t think there should be an Independent Democratic Conference,” Klein said. “Until then, I don’t see why we shouldn’t continue to try to govern.”
The group of breakaway Democrats, Klein said, has come away with some major progressive deals over the years, like increasing minimum wage to $15 an hour, and extending a tax on those making more than $1 million per year. Deals, he said, that wouldn’t have been possible without his majority coalition with Republicans.
Meanwhile tension between the IDC and mainline Democrats has increased over the course of the current legislative session. It’s inflamed a few times in recent months, particularly when rookie Sen. Marisol Alcantara objected to anti-IDC statements from deputy minority leader Michael Giannaris, citing a news report calling the group “Trump’s New York Democrats.”
That tension has strained the relationship with Democrats from the join coalition between the IDC and Republicans.
“There was never the opportunity over the last two election cycles to have a coalition” with Democrats, Klein said. “I think the leadership is wanting in some ways, and that’s probably the reason why we have been able to add members, and have been able to bring a lot of focus.”