In a surprise move this afternoon, the Republicans in the New York State Senate took over the majority when Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada, part of a group of Democratic rebels that had until today retained loose ties with the majority, defected and said they’d begin caucusing with the Republicans. Carl Kruger and Ruben Diaz Sr., the other two members of the renegade group, appear to still be on the Democrats’ team, but when a hand count was performed today, the GOP showed 32 members in support. When the results became apparent, Democrats stormed out. Espada is now the temporary president of the Senate, with Republican Dean Skelos once again serving as majority leader. Malcolm Smith, the former majority leader, is currently meeting with his caucus. “We’ve had five months of sheer chaos,” said Espada, who says he will remain a Democrat.
Update: Skelos and upstate billionaire Tom Golisano (who raised millions to help Democrats take over last year, and recently “moved” to Florida in protest over the way they adjusted taxes) just held a press conference. Skelos played up the fact that Espada is now the first Latino president of the Senate — though really, Skelos himself will be the one wielding all the real power. Governor Paterson called Skelos and Espada to a meeting later today.
Update 2: Democrats are not accepting that they’ve lost the majority. “This was an illegal and unlawful attempt to gain control of the Senate,” Malcolm Smith said. “Nothing has changed.” “Right now, Malcolm Smith is the majority leader,” said Democrat State Senator Kevin Parker.
Update 3: Malcolm Smith just held a press conference. “Senator Malcolm Smith is still the majority leader. The Senate majority is still in Democratic hands,” he said, adding: “I hope the public is outraged.” He argues that the Senate had “gaveled out” so the GOP’s coup vote didn’t count, and called his opponents’ move a “scurrilous action.” In a bad sign for the beleaguered leader, though, only 25 of his members stood with him at the podium.