Legislative Politics

Legislative Theories and the NY Gay Marriage Vote

Jun 28 '11

In response to my earlier post, a political scientist emailed me and said:

bq. …the NY events are contrary to theories that a lot of poli sci folks buy into.  Cartel theories of legislatures say that the majority party should not get rolled.  Senate Republicans were rolled in decisive fashion.  You note that our theories tell us a “divided” majority party will be weaker in its leadership than a unified one (and suggest this case is consistent with that theoretical insight).  Republicans voted 29-3 against the bill.  How much more unified can a party get?  When poli sci people theorize about “homogeneous” majority parties, they would view one in which 29 out of 32 members agree as very homogeneous.  So the weak leadership by the GOP leader is in tension both with cartel theory and conditional party government views.  That is not a reason to reject those theories.  But it suggests their limitations as applied to this case.

Two quick things.  First, I was probably too superficial in how I treated the cartel and conditional party government theories.  I was just trying to point out that the individual roll call voting behavior probably reflected some combination of constituency, party, and ideology — all things that are sort of “structural” features of legislative institutions and don’t necessarily have anything to do with Cuomo’s leadership.

Second, the NY Times piece that I noted in my first post suggests that the GOP was maybe more divided than the 29-3 margin would suggest:

bq. But the caucus — a group of 32 senators who had seized control of the Senate in the elections last year but held just a single-seat majority — was far from unified. And, crucially for same-sex marriage advocates, the Republicans’ relatively untested leader showed no interest in forcing them to reach a consensus. “My management style,” the Senate majority leader, Dean G. Skelos of Long Island, had told lawmakers, “is that I let my members lead.”

bq. …With the [Catholic] church largely out of the picture, the governor’s real worry was the simmering tension in the Senate Republican delegation. Its members met, for hours at a time, to debate the political and moral implications of allowing a vote. But each time new arguments arose. Some questioned whether homosexuality was genetic or chosen. Others suggested that the same-sex marriage legislation be scrapped in favor of a statewide referendum.