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Shrinking Senate GOP conference could become even smaller

The declining New York State Senate Republican conference could get even smaller after three senators announced that they are not running for re-election in 2020 -- and more exits are expected in the coming weeks. 

For nearly all of the past century, with a few brief breaks, Republicans ruled the Senate. Then, in 2018, they lost a number of seats to give Democrats a decisive 40-seat majority out of the 63 districts.

During the 2019 session, the GOP mostly watched as Democrats rapidly passed a number of progressive items, including laws strengthening the right to abortion, transgender rights, criminal justice reforms and a ban on single-use plastic bags at the grocery store. 

In recent days, three Republican senators have announced they are done after next year. George Amedore represents parts of the Capital Region and Hudson Valley, Michael Ranzenhofer's district is in the Buffalo suburbs, and Betty Little is a longtime lawmaker from the North Country. 

Little held a news conference on Dec. 5 announcing her retirement. 

"The first thing I thought when I got up this morning was the biblical passage that says, 'That day will come,' " Little said. 

The chair of the state's Republican Party, Nick Langworthy, predicted that the day has come for others to exit the Senate as well, and he said he's not really surprised by the announcements so far, including the call from Amedore one day after Thanksgiving. 

"I was pretty sure when I got the call from Senator Amedore at 10 o'clock on Black Friday, it wasn't because he got a good deal on a TV," Langworthy said.  

He said Amedore's district, which he said has had a "bit of blue wave" in the last few years, might be tough for Republicans to hold. But Langworthy said he expects the GOP to keep the other two seats. He would not comment on whether his wife, Erin Baker Langworthy, might run for the Ranzenhofer seat. There's been speculation that she might seek the post. 

Langworthy said his goal is to find a new group of young and energetic Republicans to run for Senate and other state offices. And he said he thinks the Legislature's liberal agenda will eventually create a backlash and an opportunity for the GOP to regain power. 

"There are so many things that the left has done since you've had totalitarian control of the Capitol that are going to make the job of winning these seats so much easier," Langworthy said. "Just wait until people out on the street figure out what the criminal justice reforms will mean to their people in their communities when crime spikes." 

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins disagrees with Langworthy on the Democrats' agenda. She thinks the items approved -- including a property tax cap and allowing victims of childhood sexual abuse to have their day in court -- will win the Democrats more seats.

She predicted that the number of Senate Democrats will grow to 43 after next November's elections. 

"I'm looking for at least 43," Stewart-Cousins said. "That is the floor, not the ceiling."

That number is key because it would take 43 Senate votes to override any potential vetoes by a governor, though Stewart-Cousins said she does not anticipate having that conflict with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is also a Democrat. 

She said she, like Langworthy, is also not surprised by the declining Senate GOP.

"I think that speaks volumes, I think they understand that we are going to continue to have a Democratic majority in the Senate," she said. "It also speaks to the environment for them nationally. Because our Republicans, frankly, have been muted about so many important things." 

Stewart-Cousins said President Donald Trump has backed many policies that are unpopular in New York, including an end to the deduction for state and local taxes on federal income tax forms, and New York Republicans have been unable to speak up about that. 

In addition to the retirements announced so far, there will soon be an open seat in the Syracuse area. Republican Sen. Bob Antonacci, who in 2018 replaced longtime GOP lawmaker John DeFrancisco, is leaving the Senate at the end of the year after winning a post for judge in November. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.