Evans: What was New York’s Andrew Cuomo (or Joni Ernst) thinking?

Print More

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the New York City Pride March commemorating the gay rights movement. (iStock image)

Here is one of the persistent questions rattling around in my head: Why are some well-educated people seemingly so lacking in common sense and good judgment?

I’m thinking about Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor for the past 10 years.

Cuomo is hanging on to his job by a thread. His job security is so precarious I wouldn’t recommend buying any green bananas for the governor’s mansion. 

New York Attorney General Letitia James, herself a Democrat like Cuomo, issued a scathing report last week that found he had created a toxic work environment inside the governor’s office. Specifically, she concluded he sexually harassed at least 11  current or former state employees, all women, since 2013.

The harassment included unwanted groping, kissing, hugging, pressing himself against the women and inappropriate comments. The harassment continued because the governor and his senior aides engaged in pressure, cover-up and retaliation against the women to discourage them from speaking up, the attorney general said.

How is it a graduate of a prestigious university, and a lawyer by training, is not wise enough to see this is terribly wrong? Doesn’t he remember the litany of prominent men who have been felled by their inability to understand that prominence does not give them the right to treat women like sexual playthings?

There is no question Andrew Cuomo needs to go. President Joe Biden said so. National Democratic Party leaders said that. The entire New York congressional delegation said he should resign. And the Democrats’ super-majority in the New York State Assembly has signaled that impeachment will begin if Cuomo does not leave.

They all recognize that a politician cannot pretend to lead 20 million people after a parade of women have accused him of breaking the law by sexually harassing them — especially after the top law enforcement official in New York concluded there is sufficient evidence to believe the women. 

If that were not devastating enough, an assistant to Cuomo filed a criminal complaint last week that he reached under her blouse and grabbed her breast when she was sent to his office at the governor’s mansion back in November.

For his part, Cuomo sounds just like many prominent men against whom similar allegations have been made: The investigation was biased. None of the allegations are true. The women misinterpreted innocent gestures. Some of the women initiated the interactions they later complained about.

This mess will either end in Cuomo’s resignation or impeachment. For baffling reasons, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa decided last week to try to inject the federal government into the middle of a state government matter.

She introduced an amendment to Congress’ bipartisan infrastructure bill. The amendment would prevent money allocated by the legislation from going to “any state in which the governor … has been found, by the relevant state or federal authorities, to have sexually harassed employees.”

Ernst said of her amendment: “It’s one way he can be held accountable because obviously nobody’s stepping up and holding him accountable.”

Just as Cuomo never adequately contemplated where his brazen conduct could lead, it appears Ernst never adequately considered the ramifications of her hastily drafted amendment, either.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa

Withholding infrastructure money from New York would not just affect Cuomo. It would also punish the one-third of New Yorkers who identify as Republicans, as well as people from other states who travel through New York. 

They drive on the same roads and bridges as Democrats. They use the same transit systems as Democrats. They ride Amtrak and use airports just like Democrats. They rely on the same water and sewage systems as Democrats.

Blessedly, the Ernst amendment died quickly. Her proposal could have led to wide-ranging consequences that are not good for a two-party system of government.

Would Ernst think it is appropriate for Congress to keep federal farm program payments from going to states where the governor “has been found, by relevant state or federal authorities,” to have refused to allow cities, counties and local schools to impose mask requirements to fight COVID-19’s delta variant?

Would Ernst think it should be permissible for Congress to block federal aid to colleges and universities in any state where its two U.S. senators “have been found, by relevant state or federal authorities,” to have voted against creating a special commission to investigate the riot at the U.S. Capitol? 

Would Ernst think it is appropriate for Congress to keep states from participating in the federal renewable fuel incentives if a state’s governor “has been found, by relevant state or federal authorities,” to have failed to set water quality standards that are comparable for agricultural runoff wastes and for wastes from manufacturing plants?

That’s why Ernst’s amendment is ill-advised.

But Joni Ernest and I do agree sometimes. We both share the same opinion of Andrew Cuomo, and we both have the same view of what should happen to him.

Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and a former opinion page editor at The Des Moines Register. He can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.