As the 2015 session of the New York State Legislature comes to a close today, it looks like they’ll be leaving a vote on the legitimacy of mixed martial arts for another time.
Despite unprecedented optimism following the arrest this year of rabidly anti-MMA former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver by the FBI on corruption charges, in the end new Speaker Carl Heastie wasn’t able to corral the 76 votes in the Democratic conference needed to move House Bill 2604 onto the floor of the full Assembly, where it was all but guaranteed to pass without breaking a sweat.
It’s hard to know where to put our anger this time. In years past, MMA fans in New York could always point at Silver as the cause of their grief. After all, Silver made no secret of his distaste for MMA and no bones about using parliamentary wrangling and Assembly tradition to keep a vote on the sport from ever happening. He was a villain we knew and understood.
But Heastie was supposed to be our guy. Rising out of the ashes of the Silver era, Heastie was pro-MMA all the way. At one point as a rank-and-file Assemblyman he had sponsored a bill that would have legalized the sport, and when he moved up the to the speaker’s post he made it clear any pro-MMA legislation would have his support.
But at the end of the day, and facing a party conference eager to pass enormous, non-MMA-related bills that were getting clogged up in negotiation, it seems like Heastie lacked either the political will or the political skill to whip his caucus into shape in time to guarantee their support before the end of a legislative session that had already gone deep into overtime. After Governor Cuomo announced yesterday a “framework agreement” designed to bring Republicans and Democrats together on a whole slew of important issues related to schools and taxes and affordable housing, Heastie suddenly found himself being attacked by members of his own party upset that he hadn’t consulted them before shaking hands with Cuomo and Republican Senate leader John J. Flanagan. If he couldn’t get conference support on such politically volatile and vital bills at the end of the session, what chance did MMA stand in the minds and hearts of Assembly men and women who at that point just wanted to get the whole thing over with and go home?
Suddenly, and for the first time, it really started to feel like the MMA bill might be dead.
Yesterday we reported that the MMA bill’s main sponsor, Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, was worried that as the session went on, more and more “yea” votes wouldn’t be sticking around Albany long enough to actually vote for MMA. And today it seems like that’s what happened. By 3 this afternoon even Morelle was doubtful there were enough votes physically left in the capitol building to turn regulated MMA into the law of the land.
“I think it’s looking less likely as the day wears on,” Morelle told reporters.
As for MMA fans living in New York, we are both despondent and unsurprised. Fool us once, shame on you; fool us six times, that’s on us. No, down deep somewhere we all had the sneaking fear this thing wouldn’t happen. We’ve become accustomed to this kind of disappointment. Still, this year feels particularly cruel. I don’t know if that’s because we got so close or because the big UFC fight we were all hoping would be at Madison Square Garden this winter will now be taking place in Calgary instead.
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