Health Policy - New York State

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December 07, 2004



So Paul, which blogs do you read?

Paul DiGiovanni

A daily stop is , to read The Bleat. On the political side, I read InstaPundit, The Corner, Real Clear Politics, Kausfiles, Roger L. Simon, and others. I haven't read a lot of medical blogs, although I am starting to do this more than I used to.

I am a Mac guy, and usually make a visit to Macintouch and As the Apple Turns. One site which I have taken to visiting with some regularity is netclassroom, a service that my kids' high school (Christian Brothers Academy - state football champs!) offers, that allows me to check their grades and keep up with their schedules.

In the spring and summer, since I am the "Commissioner" of a fantasy baseball league that I started in Nashville in 1987 (and which is still going strong), I spend a lot of time at our league's site on I named the league the Vanderbilt Doctors' Rotisserie League; the doctors in the audience will probably "get it" when they consider the acronym (VDRL).

I also keep up (but less so than I used to) with The Motley Fool for investing education and advice. I used to frequent their discussion boards (Political Asylum and The Pub), but I use the site mainly for investing research now.

One site which is like an addictive drug (I know it's not good for me but I can't stop) is's cortland forum , where the citizens of the county (and anyone else who cares) hold forth on any number of topics; the favorite one seems to be what they think of their elected officials. If I had a nickel for every slur directed at my friend, Chairman Scott Steve, I would be a wealthy man. If I had another nickel for every statement made without accurate information to back it up, I'd be Bill Gates (but I would still be a Mac guy)!



I've been thinking about the dramatic political flip that you described in the makeup of the Cortland County Legislature a year ago and have a couple of questions. How competitive are the districts?

I assume that Cortland is generally a pretty conservative county so the Democratic dominance before the last election was pretty surprising. Is that correct? (I haven't bothered to check the party enrollments.)

Seems to me that maintaining a competitive balance, not only only in the overall makeup of a legislative body but, in all districts is essential to maintaining public accountability and legislative vibrancy. My instinct has been that the current so-called reform efforts in Albany largely miss the point because they're procedural and internal to the legislative process. What they're not about is maintaing a healthy tension between the representative and the represented. Proposals to institute initiative and referenda just end run the problem.

Yes,in a narrow sense this is off topic so I won't expand on it here, but I think it's really central to an important part of what ails our politics and political system. What's your take as a rookie?

Paul DiGiovanni

The eight city of Cortland districts are fairly competitive - the GOP won four (including mine), and I don't think that we will do that well again in the city for a while. In fact, one of those seats has already flipped back to the Democrats, as the Republican who held the seat got it by virtue of appointment to it by the GOP-majority city council, who had the responsibility of deciding the winner after a tie vote. That appointment was for one year, and in the rematch last month, the Democratic challenger won. I think that had a lot to do with things other than the performance of the incumbent, but won't bore you with the overly local politics of that race. Suffice it to say that if we can hold the three seats we have in the city, we will be doing well.

The county as a whole is very Republican; it is unusual for a Democrat to win a county-wide race. There are 11 legislative seats outside the city of Cortland, but still only a few of these are reliably Republican. The legislative majority has flipped three times, I think, over the past 15 years or so. This is the biggest Republican majority in some time.

As far as competitive balance, I think the most important change has been switching the legislative Session to the evenings instead of the morning, and holding committee meetings early in the morning rather than throughout the day. Part of my hesitation in 2001 was knowing that I couldn't possibly participate fully if the committee meetings would be at 10 or 11 am, or 1 or 2 pm. By promising to make these scheduling changes, we were able to recruit candidates and contest every seat, whereas in 2001 there were several uncontested races. By winning the majority, the proposed scheduling changes were made without a problem. I can be a legislator in large part because I can go to meetings at 7:30 or 8:00, still get my kids to school, and then do my job. Being a pathologist gives me more flexibility than the typical doctor, and that also helps. Instead of retirees and small business owners, we have quite a range of folks on the legislature this term, including many young adults such as myself.

If I may, I would like to say one other thing: there is a huge difference between politicking and governance. Once the politicking was over, I became a legislator, and I do not care whether a legisaltive colleague is a Democrat; they either have something to offer or they don't. For example, I worked very closely with two Democratic legislators on an ad hoc committee that met weekly throughout the summer, and my respect for them has grown tremendously. I would happily work with them again (in fact, I am working on a project with one of them).

I think that some of our experience here does not translate well to Albany. I have no problem partnering with Democrats to get things done. I imagine the situation with an Assembly and Senate in the firm control of different parties makes the partisan considerations a different kettle of fish at that level. I am fond of saying that we are too small to allow petty things like party registration or turf battles get in the way of solving problems. And it's true; we have to rely on one another to get the job done, whether it is cooperation between the Health Department and the hospital (which hadn't been very much in evidence) or between Republicans and Democrats of good will. We just do not have the luxury of being petty while still being successful. This is kind of a stealth advantage that I didn't prospectively perceive as such.

There are changes that I would welcome, including staggering the legislative terms (having such a large change in the make up of the legislature this past year meant that we had about a dozen rookies all trying to learn how to do things at the same time). There is a Governance Evaluation Committee that is looking at these kinds of issues, but they are looking at the Big Picture (e.g., charter form of government versus the state-legislated one we now have), not just tinkering with things like staggered terms.

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