New York Election Reform: Keeping the Conversation Going

I’ve recently been involved in a few lobbying efforts with Metro Justice for the Clean Money, Clean Elections campaign, and have gained some small amount of insight as to the state of affairs in Albany.  If you’re wondering why there’s been very little talk about public campaign financing on this site or others in New York, its because the conversation has run a bit dry in the absence of legislative movement, and legislative movement won’t happen until we turn over the state Senate.

The good news/bad news of CMCE is this: Citizen Action has been working diligently on this issue for twelve years or more.  That means that most Albany politicians, regardless of their opinions of political necessity, are familiar with the concept, if not necessarily the most recent iteration of the bill.  It also means that the issue begins to take on a sort of “hopeless dreamer” cast among those in power.  The Assembly has actually passed bills for CMCE in the past, but those efforts have been shunted in the Senate, as seems to be inevitable.

Because, as it has been explained to me, the Conservative Party in this state is dead-set against CMCE, or really almost any form of electoral reform.  It is, it seems, a sacrosanct issue for them.  Since any Republican running for office in New York typically has and needs the Conservative Party line – and since the majority in the Senate is Republican – any CMCE bill cannot pass in the Senate.  It simply won’t happen.

In fact, the closest we could get in Albany to election reform was an agreement to pass a matching funds system, which is in fact a terrible idea.   Not that it mattered, because the fractious relationship between the Senate and the Governor basically killed that agreement.  Chances are, support for the bill was probably pretty soft in the Republican Party in the first place.

And all of this is to say that, while there is a lot of Democratic support for CMCE and while there are 44 Assemblymen and women signed onto a letter advocating public financing to their colleagues, that’s about as far as it’s ever going to get while the landscape remains the same in Albany.  The conversation has stopped.  Those representatives who chair committees and wield real power cannot publicly support any bill that doesn’t have a chance at passing, because to encourage a fight you can’t win in Albany is a great way to lose the credibility with which you fight the winnable battles.

So, the only way to end the stalemate in the fight for fair elections in New York State is on battling it out in the long-odds fight to overturn the Senate’s majority.  There are but two seats standing in the way of a Democratic majority in that house, but where those two seats comes from remains to be seen.  Certainly, The Albany Project would know more about this upcoming election than I do, since I’ve been paying less attention than I should be.

For the rest of us, I think one obligation is to renew the conversation outside Albany.  Those of us who blog and care about this issue can do a lot more to push CMCE into the lexicon of New Yorkers than I think we’ve been doing.  In fact, “new york election reform” is a very soft target for keyword loading, which is a way we as bloggers can dominate the conversation online by reaching the top of the Google search results for certain key phrases.  I discussed this concept on TAP a long time ago, and perhaps I’ll start a page on this site as well.

If Ron Paul fans can get their boy to outperform Rudy Giuliani in the Republican primaries, I’m sure we can do this.

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.