Monday, November 2, 2009

The race in New York 23

Normally, the November elections in the year after the American Presidentials are the dullest. Besides the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia (the only two up for grabs) and the mayoralties of New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Houston, there really isn't too much to be interested in. But one by-election for the vacant House seat in New York 23 (the northeast part of the state, which borders southeast Ontario and southwest Quebec and includes most of the Adirondacks), is everything everyone is saying it is and it could have major national implications.

It's hard to imagine that in a country that strongly frowns upon parachuting a candidate into a district (in the States, it's called "carpetbagging") that a party's activists would actually support the outsider. While the US constitution only requires a candidate for office to be a resident of his or her state it's a well established convention one has to also reside in his or her district to be taken seriously.
 
Yet supporting the carpetbagger is exactly what has happened in the race to succeed John McHugh who resigned when President Obama named him Secretary of the Army. The local Republican party named Dede Scozzafava who is an old-style Republican -- pro-gun and in tune with rural values, but also pro-choice and pro-gay rights. Thing is, for most militant Republicans, being any kind of leftist is unacceptable. So for this by-election, to be held tomorrow, they are rallying behind the New York Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, saying he's the "real" Republican.
 
How can this be? Well, New York State is one of the few states left that has an "electoral fusion" law, which allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines with the totals from all endorsed lines pooled and added up, and as long as at least one of those lines passes a statewide quota -- in NYS' case it's 50,000 -- a "fusion" party can remained registered in the state. Fusion laws do exist in some other democracies, such as the UK where Labour has an informal agreement with the "Labour Co-operative" on the mainland and the SDLP in Northern Ireland -- but it's in NYS that the multiple lines that have allowed way out there parties such as the "Independence" and "Right to Life" parties on the right and the "Working Family," "Liberal" and "Green" parties on the left to stay in business as long as they have.
 
Fusion laws appear to be a way around the first past the post system which dominates the US system in the vast majority of states; only Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, as far as I can recall, require a candidate to get 50% plus one to avoid a runoff between the top two candidates in a second round of voting. It does ensure smaller voices get heard, but when you have the same candidate run across several lines it really isn't quite that democratic. All it would do, all it does do, is give a cause an extra lease on life. In the 2006 NYS governor race, there were effectively only two candidates with one running on three lines and the other running on two. Same dictators, you just choose the colour.
 
In the present case, Hoffman has gotten support from a rather odd bunch, including Sarah Palin and Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and many other GOP luminaries -- which has unexpectedly given the Democrat, Bill Owens, an outside chance of winning; which became even greater when Scozzafava quit the race in disgust on Saturday and at the last minute endorsed her Democratic opponent.
 
To make things even more confusing, the Independence Party endorsed Scozzafava while the Working Families Party has endorsed Owens!
 
Why the possible national implications? Not just for the principle that a candidate from a district should be from the district and not just because there should be "no election without selection" (Scozzafava was handpicked by district party executives without a primary) but also because it's a fight for what the GOP should be. With the election loss last year of Chris Shays in Connecticut, the Republicans have virtually no seats in the Northeast and NY 23 is one that the GOP has held since, I believe, 1872. Not only that, but Shays and company represented a dying breed -- moderate to liberal Republicans who made sure the party didn't get too far off track.
 
Sarah Palin has said she supports Hoffman because when Reagan ran for President he refused to compromise on his principles and the GOP should not now. However, it's more accurate to say that while Reagan did employ the infamous and very racist "Southern strategy" to get elected, he actually did make huge compromises. He was vocally opposed in the 1960s to civil rights legislation, voting reforms and Social Security. But by the time he got into the White House, he had made peace with public pensions, enforced the Voting Rights Act, and presided over the EEOC when it finally took sexual harassment seriously and landed a major victory when the Supreme Court accepted the principle that harassment is discrimination. And while he was certainly quirky when it came to the environment, he actually saw it to it that the Clean Air and Water Acts were enforced as they were written -- not at all like what happened under Bush 2 two decades later.
 
Reagan didn't compromise any of his values to do so. He simply accepted that the line of reforms of government that had popular acceptance should not be tampered with. To do this, he embraced the moderates in his party and consistently warned his radical minions not to speak ill of their more meek fellow mates.
 
If Hoffman wins, it will mean that moderates no longer have a place in the GOP and undoubtedly that will leave many rank and file Republicans out in the cold. Many would rather register as a "fusion" member in the states that allow the practice or as an independent in the majority that do not -- than become a Democrat. But if those who are fiscally conservative but socially liberal do not have a home feel they need to express their feelings at the ballot box they will go for the party that has actually demonstrated fiscal prudence in the 1990s and early aughts of this centruy much more so than the Republicans did -- and that party is the Democrats.
 
In many social mores, the US is undoubtedly conservative. But a conservative in one part of the States may well be a liberal in another. Some of the great ideas have come from the smallest parts of the country, not from the loud mouthpieces who have legions of dittoheads to do their bidding just like Pavlovian dogs or those who actually comply with Milgram experiments.
 
In most countries, what we now call "Republican," or what has been hijacked by the militants, would almost certainly fall into the "black" or neo-Fascist column -- like the Front National in France, the BNP in the UK and the Freedom Party in Austria. Meanwhile, moderate conservatives would actually be the Conservatives or Christian Democrats. They are successful at the ballot box because they understand a "big tent" should be exactly that and one cannot exercise personal freedom unless he or she also is part of the collective responsibility. Losing a seat that should be a lock, and losing it after holding it for 137 years, would be a well deserved slap in the face.
 
If the GOP keeps this up and keeps marginalizing those who want to bring the party back to the radical centre, they can look forward to another twenty years in the wilderness, at least as far as Congress is concerned.

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4 comments:

tjeerd said...

"carpetbagging"
Its a non issue for a State that elected Hillary for Senate.
The "Republican" candidate was not a Moderate but a Liberal. She proved that by supporting the Democrat, Bill Owens.
Hoffman will win because the people are fed up with spending, something the other two candidates failed to address.

tjeerd said...

"carpetbagging"

sorry, its a non issue in the Empire State. They elected Hillary, who came half way across the country.

Hoffman will win because not because the Republicans nominated a moderate, but a liberal. She proved that by bowing out and supporting Owens.
You now have a clear choice between two views. The Conservative will beat the far left Liberal.

McGuire said...

Don't forget about Bobby Kennedy, as well

BlastFurnace said...

Maybe I should have clarified the point a bit. Voters seem to be a bit forgiving when someone comes from out of state, sets up "temporary" residence to qualify for the ballot then wins. But they are less forgiving when someone goes from one part of the state to another and then runs. I don't understand the inconsistency; maybe it's the old urban-rural divide.