NY State 7th District
by Matt Stoller, Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 06:27:36 AM EST
There's a special election today in New York state, and it's a big one. Like, party-crushing. Keep your eye on the Albany Project, the superbly good New York liberal community blog that has been a center of activity. For decades, New York politics has been controlled by 'three men in a room', the Governor and the leaders of the Assembly and Senate who exercise a dictatorial control over their chambers. There was a tacit deal, upheld by all major stakeholders in New York politics, that the Senate would remain Republican and the House Democratic, with the Governor flipping back and forth. The Republican Party in New York state relies on this detente for its survival, otherwise it would look like the nonexistent Republican Party in Massachusetts, which doesn't exist, as I pointed out earlier in this sentence.
Right now the Republicans have a three seat majority in the Senate, and if Craig Johnson wins today, that will narrow to two. More to the point, if Johnson wins, it will become obvious that the Senate is going to flip in the next two years, and Republicans will head for the exits. There will be retirements, or even party switchers who don't want to be part of a Republican minority. Enticing offers will be made to every Republican to let the Senate drift to where its natural home should be, in the Democratic camp. At the same time, if the Republicans win this special election, the stakeholders who backed Spitzer and the Democrats will be frustrated by an extremely vindictive Joe Bruno. This isn't a standard DC-like fight, Bruno and the Republicans in New York have been extremely good to unions, and many of them (including SEIU's legendary 1199) are going full-bore for the Republican in the race.
There are plenty of dirty tricks already, including robocalls, and voter intimidation. As Lipris at the Albany Project notes, it's really cold, and that's going to affect turnout, and probably not in the way that we want.
There's a really interesting subtext here that goes beyond the standard partisan fighting, which is the conflict between the reformers and the machine people. If the Democrats win, the Assembly and Senate will be controlled by old school Democrats, with Spitzer as a genuine populist and aggressive reformer. The progressives in New York are aggressively backing Spitzer, and he tends not to back down in the face of conflict. New York state government hasn't passed an on-time budget in more than 20 years, it's quite dysfunctional, and there's a bipartisan consensus upholding the corruption that sustains the dysfunction. It's not going to disappear if Johnson wins today, but it will decline dramatically.
Being able to govern progressively takes progressive politics, and being able to govern progressively on a national scale takes experimentation at a state level. Our inability to use the Empire State as a vessel for innovation has hurt us badly, so we should all be rooting for New York Democrats to pull through today.