If you are a registered Democrat in the state of New York, I urge you to make time to get to your local polling place this coming Tuesday, Sept. 9 and vote for Zephyr Teachout for your party’s nomination for governor and Tim Wu for your party’s nomination for lieutenant governor. By doing so, you can stand up for the most high-minded of Democratic Party principles and renew the great American insistence – an insistence far too often thwarted by egotists, megalomaniacs and the venal — on good, clean government.
State government has a corruption problem. Over the past 10 years, some 14 statewide officeholders, mostly legislators, have been convicted on bribe-taking or embezzlement charges. We’ve also had an assemblywoman convicted of entering into a sham marriage for immigration purposes, two or three sexual harassment scandals, extortion, lying to the FBI and, oh yeah, a governor who had to quit because he was caught soliciting prostitutes. Something like 10 percent of the state’s population has been without representation in one house or the other due to scandal-linked resignations.
State government is at its heart a pay-to-play operation where the insiders and the connected get the sweet deal and the rest of us get the raw deal. When Andrew Cuomo was elected four years ago, he promised to put an end to all this and to restore honesty and competency to state government. One of the ways he planned to do this was to establish a Moreland Commission to look into corruption. In a state like ours, where news of the arrests of senators and assemblypersons come over the e-transom with infuriating frequency, you’d figure this commission might really dig up some stuff, maybe even get to the roots of it. And so it was, if you believe The New York Times’ meticulously reported story about how Cuomo tried to thwart, and finally kill off by a budget deal with Senate Republicans, his own commission when it got too close to the people who were doing him favors. What gall.
Also galling is the imperious manner in which our elected (not anointed, nor coronated) governor conducts his affairs of the state. By many accounts, he is part of a disturbing trend of control-freakism in executive office, characterized by micromanagement, a leadership style your grade-school principal would call bullying and immediate and massive retaliation against anyone who opposes him. This kind of thing is not new in history, but let’s be blunt and say it hearkens back to tyrants in foreign lands, rather than draw from the best examples in our own American life. Teachout promises a different way of doing things.
Cuomo has done some things I like: he’s gotten the state budget process to run on time, at least. Gay marriage wouldn’t have happened, probably, had he not hone all-in on it. While Teachout’s against it, I think the property tax levy hike limit is an important first step in reforming education funding and helps homeowners with more manageable tax costs. (It’s just a first step, though — an income-based tax rather than property tax and a rethinking of how schools are organized and administered have to follow.) I take the SAFE act to be equal parts political opportunism, slapdash lawmaking and a genuine desire to get guns away from dangerous people: good gun control laws yes, the SAFE act, not so much. Economic development has been much more promise than actual results so far, but the practice of cushy tax breaks to business is starting to rub the wrong way around here, especially in New Paltz. Casinos may or may not be good for the state — gambling brings with it well-known social woes and if what’s happened this week in Atlantic City is any indication, the market might already be saturated. I take them as way overhyped, done so to pass muster with a hopeful populace so insiders can make bank.
Teachout has a pretty bold progressive agenda — get the rich to pay more of their fair share, raise the minimum wage, boost education funding by a lot. All that would do Kingston and Ulster a lot of good. Legalizing recreational marijuana, as she favors, would very likely be a more stable and less destructive revenue source than casinos.
Look, we all know the fix is in in New York state government. Sometimes we get pissed off, other times we shrug in apathy and still other times the power games’ shamelessness and outrages makes us laugh, in a sardonic kind of way. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If the electorate rewards good civic behavior and punishes the bad, the republic works as it ought. If the electorate turns the other way and becomes (as we have here in this state to a very large extent) apathetic from a conviction that the fix can never be taken out, then we get what we have. A racket rather than a republic.
Casting votes for Teachout-Wu ticket may not change this — the thing about the fix is that it’s good at keeping itself in. (But it’s an interesting possibility that if Wu beats Cuomo pick Kathy Hochul for lieutenant governor and the governor has to leave office due to a Moreland-linked indictment or conviction, Wu would be the governor.) I see it like this: every vote the Teachout-Wu ticket gets is in its way a rebuke to Cuomo and the Albany system as a whole. Rebukes a long time in coming.