By Jorge Scott,2014-07-01 01:20
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    Volume 126 ? Number 3 ? Fall 2011

Book Reviews

    Tales from the Sausage Factory: Making Laws in New York State by Daniel L. Feldman and Gerald Benjamin. Albany, State University of New York Press, 2010. 374 pp. $24.95.

    Dan Feldman, New York State Assembly member, in collaboration with Gerald Benjamin, an academic authority on the New York state legislature, has written a wonderful account of life in New Yorkʼs legislature.

    BOOK REVIEWS | 513

    The book paints a colorful picture of Feldmanʼs day-to-day activities in the

    Assembly. The first chapters describe how the legislature operates, the responsibilities of its members, its overall structure, and its internal power dynamics. The authors further develop this basic understanding of New York Stateʼs

    legislative process and culture with stories of four public safety bills that Feldman worked to enact during his time in the Assembly: first, the struggle to enact the Organized Crime Control Act; second, the establishment of Meganʼs Law,

    which requires persons convicted of sex crimes against children to notify local law enforcement every time they move or undertake new employment; third, the reform of the harsh Rockefeller drug laws; and fourth, efforts to make gun manufacturers accountable for injuries to victims of gun violence. By detailing these battles, the authors teach us how the legislature operates. The cases illustrate typical processes and provide vivid illustrations that reinforce the workʼs

    major themes.

In the preface, Feldman and Benjamin claim, We offer neither a knee jerk

    condemnation of the Legislature, nor an uncritical panegyric(p. xiii).

    One highlight is Feldmanʼs explanation of the

    decision-making process from the perspective of the legislative practitioner. Feldman walks the reader through every step of his thinking as he confronts new laws in a process made especially interesting because Feldman is not strictly committed to the ideals of one political party. A useful contrast to Feldmanʼs experience within the legislature is provided by Benjamin in chapter 11, The New York State LegislatureOn Balance.Unlike Feldmanʼs

    internal perspective, this chapter presents an outsiderʼs view. While Benjamin

    has served as a county legislator, his academically influenced chapter is analytic and reflective. The collaboration of an academic and a practitioner ensures that we do not simply hear a bunch of war stories,but are treated to a rigorous

    depiction of the modern New York legislature.

    To some degree, this book is a response to the mediaʼs largely uninformed

    critique of the legislature, which the authors address by revealing its day-to-day realities. They provide a wonderfully textured description of the institution and how it functions. According to the authors, the New York state legislatureʼs

reputation and performance have steadily declined because:

    & A political recruitment process once dominated by strong county party leaders has come to be dominated by interest groups and wealthy individuals with the money to fund campaigns;

    & Bipartisan gerrymandering resulted in a high member reelection rate and entrenched incumbency.

    These developments led to increased independence from executive leadership, which made reaching decisions more difficult and led to a decline in the legislatureʼs performance and reputation. While it is true that a look inside the 514 | POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY

    process of making sausage might convince you to become a vegetarian, unless we all move out of state, New Yorkers have no choice but to study, understand, and hopefully improve our legislature. This book provides an important tool to serious reformers. Practitioners and scholars interested in understanding the current status of New Yorkʼs state government will benefit from a close read of this impressive and interesting book.


    Columbia University

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