The minor parties’ shuffles will make the race for Governor more interesting, but it’s not likely to change the expected results in November

The names of the candidates for Governor of New York in 2018 are pretty well set. Now it’s time for a process that can best be described as “minor party musical chairs.”

Yes, there will be a Democratic Party primary for governor and lieutenant governor, with actress Cynthia Nixon and New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams challenging Andrew Cuomo and Kathy Hochul. Former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner has created a financial committee, Miner for NY, but the purpose of the filing is unknown at this point. She had previously been considering a challenge to Cuomo, a former ally.

The activity this past weekend, as reported in the Buffalo News, suggesting that the Cuomo team might want Hochul off the statewide ballot is mystifying. She has been a loyal and hardworking Lieutenant. Yes, Kathy would certainly give Chris Collins a better race in the 27th Congressional District than Nate McMurray will, but that discussion is past its “sell by” date.

What difference does it make that Williams will be on the Working Families line in November? And is team Cuomo really concerned about the possibility of a city councilman from Brooklyn, unknown outside of the borough, winning the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor?

Four years ago Fordham University Law Professor Zephyr Teachout, in her first run for public office, collected 33 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary against Cuomo. She carried twenty-six of the 57 counties outside of New York City. Nixon supporters, given her celebrity, are looking to expand on Teachout’s vote total. That is not likely.

Nixon’s campaign does not, at this early stage, seem to be catching on. Her efforts thus far have been mostly New York City centered. She reportedly characterized “upstate” as starting somewhere in the proximity of Ithaca.

Andrew Cuomo learned some lessons from the 2014 campaign, beginning with a need, in his estimation, to move politically to the left. Efforts included an increase in the state’s minimum wage; the program he describes as “free tuition;” and the re-unification of the Democratic Caucus in the State Senate have been designed to make it easier to fend off a challenge from the left wing of the party.

Mayor Bill DeBlasio of New York fancies himself as a leader of the progressive portion of the Democratic Party. He is often at loggerheads with Cuomo. How DeBlasio handles the Democratic primary for governor will be interesting.

Independent former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is signaling that he will not be involved in Nixon’s campaign. Watch for him to waffle on that position over the next several months as his progressive supporters in the state press him to join the Nixon effort.

The Republican Party moved past several potential candidates before settling on Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro. His last remaining opponent, State Senator John DeFrancisco, will drop out after the Republican State Convention next month.

New York being New York, campaigns don’t all get sorted out after the Democrats and Republicans hone in on their candidates. That’s because New York is a “fusion party state” that makes it relatively easy for new parties to spring up and often hang around for a quite a while. They often affiliate themselves with the Democrats or the Republicans. For point of reference I refer you to the first post published on this blog three years ago, “New York – What a great state for a party!”

Parties have come and gone over the years. There once was a Liberal Party and a Right-to-Life Party. The state’s Conservative Party, founded in 1962 to challenge Nelson Rockefeller, is the oldest of the state’s current roster of six minor parties. The Conservatives hold the coveted third spot on the ballot at the moment based on their party vote for governor in 2014.

The Conservatives have all but officially endorsed Molinaro as their candidate this year, a choice that will be ratified in May.

In 2014 the Working Families Party, after much maneuvering, supported Andrew Cuomo but this year the party will give their ballot line right through the November election to Cynthia Nixon.   Unions that have played a major role in organizing and running the party have backed away and have indicated that they will attempt to form a new labor-oriented party that will support Cuomo in 2018.

Cuomo’s allies in 2014 created the Women’s Equality Party to give him an additional line on the ballot. There are all of 4,675 registered members of that party statewide.

In 2014 Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino created the Stop Common Core Party for another line on the ballot. The party barely made it over the 50,000 vote threshold to give it automatic ballot status for four years. The powers-to-be in the party, mostly Astorino staffers, decided after 2014 that “Stop Common Core” wasn’t going to get them anywhere, so they morphed into the Reform Party, which presently has 1,882 registered voters.

Having been shut out from his adopted party, the Republicans, former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra has gravitated to the Reform Party to gain entry into the 2018 gubernatorial sweepstakes. He seems intent on using the campaign to promote the efforts of his former lobbying clients who are looking to legalize non-medical marijuana.

The Green Party gained the fourth line on the ballot based on their 2014 vote for Howie Hawkins for governor. He’s running again this year.

So here’s the potential lineup for governor in 2018:

  • Democrats – Andrew Cuomo versus Cynthia Nixon in a September primary
  • Republicans – Marcus Molinaro
  • Conservatives – Molinaro
  • Green – Howie Hawkins
  • Working Families – Nixon
  • Independence – to be determined
  • Women’s Equality – Cuomo, if the party determines to be active this year
  • Reform – Joel Giambra
  • A new labor-oriented party – Cuomo
  • And perhaps others. There were a total of ten parties contesting the 2014 election.

So what does it all mean?

Well, maybe something. Likely, probably nothing.

As the incumbent, Andrew Cuomo comes into the race with lots of positives and negatives. The positives include his nearly eight years in the office, with all the power and influence that incumbency carries; $30+ million in his campaign treasury; and popular positions that will attract the Democratic base.

Negatives include his nearly eight years in the office, with all the baggage that incumbency carries; public corruption trials involving associates close to the governor, including most particularly former aide Joseph Percoco, who was recently convicted on bribery charges; and assorted issues like the problems of the New York City subway system and economic development efforts that have spent tons of money upstate while producing negligible results.

Look for Nixon to draw 30 to 35 percent of the primary vote, which will total less than the 574,350 Democrats who voted in 2014. She may come across like the late Mayor of New York, Ed Koch, who failed to catch on in upstate in 1982 despite the support of many party regulars.

Nixon will carry on to November on the Working Families Party line. She will help divide up the anti-Cuomo vote with Joel Giambra. Neither will get very far.

The Republicans, of course, will gleefully watch all of those goings on, hoping that Nixon and Giambra will draw off enough votes from Cuomo to make Molinaro viable. That all presupposes that Molinaro is a great candidate without any negatives packed into his campaign. But that is not so.

Molinaro is 42 years old. He has been in one elective office or another since he was 18 years old, the definition of a career politician. He has accomplished nothing of note in those 24 years.

Molinaro will have issues to exploit, but little money. He will have two credible party lines in November, but the Republicans statewide have an anemic organization that has faded badly under the chairmanship of Ed Cox. The party has not won a statewide office since 2002. It lost several key county elections last year. It is on the verge of losing control of the State Senate.

Most importantly, Molinaro and whoever turns out to be his statewide running mate will be swimming against a powerful Democratic tide in the bluest of blue states in 2018.

It’s only April, but this election is all but over except for the shouting. Where Cuomo takes that into a third term is anyone’s guess.

What does it mean to be a conservative in Donald Trump’s Republican Party?

As time goes on it is clear that the Republican Party is now really the Donald Trump Party. Large majorities of affiliated and leaning Republicans support Trump strongly, either because they really, really believe in what he says and does, no matter what; or in the case of many Republican elected officials, because they are really, really afraid of what the Trump base might do to them if they challenge Trump.

William Safire, in his Political Dictionary, explains that “many who call themselves conservative resist most governmental regulation of the economy. They favor free trade and local and state action over federal action and emphasize fiscal responsibility, most notably in the form of budgets balanced by spending restraint and frown mightily on Republican political figures who raise taxes or seem profligate in non-defense expenditures.”

That definition doesn’t seem to apply to too many of the Republican elected or party leadership class in 2018. As the late great Republican Attorney General John Mitchell once advised, “watch what we do, not what we say.” Republican leadership would generally say they are conservatives. But let’s look at what they do.

I know, Trumpkin conservatives will want to note the Gorsuch appointment and that of other judges; the roll back of regulations; the tax cut. There are also Trump’s concessions to placate the positions of the conservatives whose main emphasis is on social issues. It’s fun to watch the likes of Jerry Falwell Jr. and others who emphasize “family values” twist in knots to rationalize Trump’s lack of ethics or a moral compass.

The bottom line here is that being a conservative ain’t what it used to be. Fiscal restraint is out. The larger the national debt, it seems, the better. Former Republican Senator and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg has observed that when asked if there are any deficit hawks left in Congress, the answer is “there are not even any ‘deficit pigeons’ in this Congress.”

The tax cuts approved by the conservative Republican Congress and Trump will, over the next ten years, increase the national debt by more than one trillion dollars. The 2018 budget that Congress and Trump approved last month will increase the annual federal deficit by another two trillion dollars in the next ten years. Starting in 2020 annual federal deficits will top one trillion dollars. So when you get a chance, thank your children and grandchildren for paying for the extra few borrowed dollars that the tax cut will put in your paycheck.

In the very near future one of the consequences of what the Republicans in Congress and the White House have done will result in interest payments on the national debt exceeding one trillion dollars per year!

A real conservative would note that it is hypocritical to now vote on a “balanced budget amendment,” as the House is preparing to do, right after voting to raise the national debt by more than one trillion dollars a year for as many years as the eye can see.

Senator Gregg notes “the bill passed by the Congress and signed by the president sets a fundamentally new tone for the Republican Party… If the Republicans lose control of the Congress later this year, they need look no further then this abandonment of the core purpose of the party. They have no claim any longer to being the party of fiscally responsible government, or to being good stewards of the government and its fiscal health. The Republican Congress now represents a party with very few significant defining principles other than the promotion of the president’s impulses at that moment.”

Conservatives used to be committed to free trade, but now that the Trump Republican Party has decided that trade wars are the way to go, where is the old conservative leadership on the issue? The answer is that they are hiding behind the soybean crop in the Midwest that so strongly supported Donald Trump two years ago. Any opposition to the proposed trade war among Republican representatives and senators is muted. Trump defenders say that the trade war stance is just a negotiating ploy. But if everyone knows it is a ploy, then where is the negotiating advantage?

And what about that stuff about “draining the swamp?” There is more swamp water in the Trump Cabinet Room than in the Everglades in Florida. Issues that in previous administrations would have led to the immediate termination of cabinet officers are just another day at the office for the Trump administration. Of course, when the boss is enriching himself and his family directly or by encouraging people who have interests in federal policy to use Trump facilities, it probably seems to the cabinet that such things are okay. The fish stinks from the head.

Here is a brief summary of some of the “swamp draining” in the Trump administration:

  • The purchase of fancy furniture for Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who is in charge of housing policy while cutting housing subsidies for the poor; with additional expensive furniture for Environmental Protection Administrator Scott Pruitt.
  • Permitting cabinet officers including Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, and Environmental Protection Administrator Pruitt to abuse travel privileges with wasteful spending.
  • Allowing cabinet officers including in particular Pruitt and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to create multi-million dollar personal security details.
  • Allowing Pruitt to cut himself a deal with a lobbyist for housing in Washington.
  • Allowing Pruitt to build a $40,000 “cone of silence” phone booth in his office.
  • Allowing Pruitt to give political appointees massive pay raises outside of the personnel rules of the government.

If someone is truly a conservative in 2018 they would be shouting “enough already.” They would be saying repeal some of the tax cuts that lined the pockets of billionaires and drop some of the spending. They would say that any administration official traveling first class or in private jets; or ordering fancy office furniture or technology; or traveling around with security details; or zipping through traffic with lights flashing to get to a restaurant would be GONE, immediately.

The leadership in the Trump/Republican Party call themselves conservatives. They have given conservatism a bad name by their actions. The party that bragged about their overflowing agenda of ideas has none today. Their agenda is simply whatever comes from a compilation of Donald Trump’s rambling tweets. That is what it means to be a conservative in Donald Trump’s Republican Party in 2018.

Emails from Elizabeth and Devin; some observations and heard-on-the-streets

We all get on a variety of email listservs over time. We might sign up for some of them, but many are just a waste of time.

If you’re in to following politics the emails can turn into a flood. From the various media outlets there are dozens of newsletters. Very few of them write original content. Most are aggregators of news and opinion pieces from other sources, and they generally overlap with one another. If you read one of the sites you can probably pass on reading 90 percent of the others available daily.

Aside from the newsletters, my email inbox is inundated with solicitations from a wide political spectrum. As a Democrat I have signed up for some contacts, and others just show up. But I actually get more political email from Republicans.

In February 2016, during the height of the Republican primaries for president, I traveled around South Carolina for a few days, observing the campaign presentations of various candidates including Trump, Bush, Rubio, Cruz and Kasich. I also caught a Bernie Sanders event. In order to be admitted to most of those events I needed a “ticket,” which I acquired by emailing the campaigns.

Two years later the emails are still streaming in. Someone or someones must be making a pretty penny selling those email lists.

Most of the emails ask for money. All play to the base, as determined simplistically it seems by people just signing up for something by email. Donald Trump and his team often ask for just one dollar, although three dollars is often the baseline ask for many of these solicitations. When Trump has a fundraiser coming up he often asks for a small donation to be entered into a raffle for a chance to have dinner with him. Ah, so tempting, but I have resisted the opportunity to respond.

The emails also get more intense right before a federal campaign finance filing deadline, which recently occurred on March 31. I had five emails from Trumpland in just the twelve hours before midnight on that day.

Most of the emails have a similar theme, with just the names of the solicitors and the names of the evil opposition changed. I guess there are only so many ways you can ask someone for campaign money.

Here’s is a brief summary of emails that have arrived in the past few days:

  • Senator Elizabeth Warren (D,MA), writing on behalf of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, says thatthe mega-wealthy Republican donors on the other side have the money to dump millions of dollars into Senate races like mine. They think they can take us down in a blink.”
  • Congressman Devin Nunes (R,CA) reports that “this month’s special election was a wake up call to our movement. We can’t expect to sit around and do nothing and win in November. The left wants to take the majority and make Nancy Pelosi Speaker again. We must expect the midterms to be vicious. We need as many resources as possible to fend them off.”
  • Senator Chuck Schumer (D,NY), looking to take over the Senate against long odds, made a pitch for two Democratic women candidates for the Senate. “Now that Doug Jones is a sitting senator, we only need to flip two seats to take back the majority… Just look at Jacky Rosen (in Nevada) and Kyrsten Sinema (in Arizona).”
  • State Senator Karin Housley (R,MN), candidate for the United States Senate, told me “I will fight to protect jobs. I will fight for our veterans. I will fight for our entrepreneurs, and most importantly, I will fight for you, Ken.” This one is tempting. I’ve thought about donating $3 (about the price of a Sabres hockey ticket these days) if she promises to permanently re-locate her husband, Sabres Coach Phil Housley, back to Minnesota.
  • Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D,TX), candidate for the United States Senate, explains “our campaign to take on Ted Cruz doesn’t take a dime from PACs or corporate special interests. We’re trying to do things the right way … by relying on the support of regular, everyday people chipping in what they can afford.”
  • Catherine Templeton, candidate for Governor of South Carolina in the upcoming Republican primary, tells me “I am a mother, wife, union-busting-attorney, a Trump supporter, a one-time textile worker, and I was the Secretary of Labor for Governor Nikki Haley. Kenneth, there are many out there who have already slandered my campaign because of my support of President Trump.”
  • Senator Kamala Harris (D,CA) extended a “welcome to the team! I’m glad to have you on board as we work to build a coalition of Americans strong enough to take back our country and advance an agenda rooted in justice, equality, and tolerance for all of our people.” Thank you Senator, but I don’t recall joining the team.
  • Senator Tom Cotton (R,AK), former possible future Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, in asking for money noted last week that “if I can’t secure the last 59 donations and post strong public fundraising numbers, then Democrats and the liberal media will have a field day. They are looking for any weakness to use against me, and I don’t want to lose even an ounce of momentum.”
  • Former Republican Attorney General of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli, who is President of the Senate Conservatives Fund, attacked establishment Republicans about the recently approved federal budget, noting that “the massive omnibus spending bill written and passed by GOP leaders in the House and Senate is yet another betrayal of the conservative voters who elected them.” Oh, by the way Mr. Cuccinelli, Donald Trump signed that dastardly budget.

Some observations and heard-on the street items

  • I know the old expression, “signs don’t vote.” But when political signs are placed on the lawns of homes it does indicate support and likely votes. In a totally unscientific and anecdotal way, it appears that Republican Erik Bohen, with three weeks to go until the special election for State Assembly in the 142nd District, has a lead among sign-posting residents, at least in the Buffalo portion of the district. I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions just yet, but it looks like Democratic candidate Pat Burke has some catching up to do in his home territory. He might want to look for more attention-grabbing issues than the microbead ban legislation that is featured in a couple postcards.
  • There are about 86,000 registered voters in that Assembly district, with about 62 percent of that number located in Orchard Park and West Seneca. Less than 20 percent of the voters reside in Buffalo’s South District, which is the de facto epicenter for the election. A turnout of about 15 percent is likely, so the trick for each of the candidates is in finding 6,500 of your closest friends and relatives to show up and vote for you.
  • A previous post noted a dearth of candidates for most state legislative seats in Western New York. One such seat is the one presently occupied by Republican and strong Trump supporter David DiPietro in the 147th Assembly District, who was unopposed in the last two elections. There is, however, a prospective candidate for the Democratic nomination who is making the rounds, Luke Wochensky. Mr. Wochensky is a resident of Colden, New York. He is an attorney whose principle office is in … Moscow, Russia. Really. You can Google it. In the absence of any other interested candidate, Wochensky could wind up almost by default as the Democratic nominee. This is very confusing.
  • Former Hamburg Supervisor Steven Walters evidently is not content with just being the new Town Attorney. He has been appointed as partner and chief legal officer of the real estate firm Colby Development. Looks like he might be pretty busy.
  • The Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government recently published reports on the transparency of websites of local governments and public authorities. Issues reviewed included whether the sites provide links to meeting agendas and minutes; contact and FOIL information; budgets and related matters. None of the governments or agencies came out particularly well, but some do much better than others. You can read the government and authority reports here: https://www.facebook.com/nyopengov.org

High intensity national and state elections overshadow this year’s local contest

Even if you ignore this year’s impending national elections (go ahead and try to do that), and even if you ignore the state race for governor which is coming into better focus, an observer has to be mystified by the low energy level of politics on the local level in 2018.

Technically, this year in Western New York, there will be elections for two members of Congress, five state senators, nine members of the Assembly, a county clerk and a county court judge. When the petition process plays out this summer, however, there will be some blank spots on certain ballot lines and maybe a few “placeholder” candidates who got stuck holding the bag when their party could not come up with a credible candidate.

Credible candidates, to be fair, are often hard to come by. Most of the aforementioned offices are presently held by incumbents who have occupied the position for many years, or in some cases, a few decades. Incumbents have the ability to more easily generate attention through their work and publicly-funded publicity. Incumbents can more easily generate large amounts of campaign funds.

Those things tend to scare away potential opponents. Even for placeholder candidates there are certain legal and technical obligations of a candidate that are a pain whether you are a serious candidate or just a fill-in.

For these reasons there are often party ballot lines in some elections where there is no name at all. In olden days party leaders could always come up with some cooperative soul who would reluctantly allow their name to appear on a ballot for an office no one expected to see that person win. Party pride and loyalty were at stake. That spirit no longer exists.

So what you are left with is a seat here or there where there is a contest, real or just hopeful. Politics and Other Stuff has combed the local offices on this year’s ballot to size up the situation. It didn’t take long. Things can change but it’s almost April, a time when serious campaigns are identified as serious campaigns. So here is the list:

  • Erie County Clerk. Incumbent Mickey Kearns won the office last November. That election was only for purposes of filling the office for the remainder of former Clerk Chris Jacobs’ term. Kearns didn’t win that election by much, and he faces the headwinds of greater Democratic voter enthusiasm. That said, there is no Democratic candidate evident for the office at this time. Cheektowaga Supervisor Diane Benczkowski declined to run for personal reasons. You can’t beat somebody with nobody, and so far “nobody” is the Democratic candidate for Clerk.
  • There will be a special election for Kearns’ former Assembly seat on April 24th, but unless you live in South Buffalo, Lackawanna, Orchard Park or West Seneca you will be forgiven for not knowing that. The candidates are Democrat Pat Burke, currently a county legislator, and Republican Erik Bohen, a school teacher who is technically a registered Democrat. Each candidate has two minor party lines. There may also be a Democratic primary in September, and the general election comes later this year. Those elections might be contested by the same two candidates. Some political leaders, however, feel that whoever wins the special election will probably scare off the loser in the fall.
  • If Burke wins the special election then the five remaining Democrats on the County Legislature will appoint a replacement until a special election can be held in November for that seat. Burke is in a long line of Irish Democratic legislators from that district, based in South Buffalo, going back to the first legislator, in 1968, Dick Keane. That tradition might be ending. Nearly 70 percent of the registered voters in that district live in the Town of Cheektowaga; just 22 percent reside in Buffalo’s South District. Cheektowaga Councilmember Tim Meyers is a potential replacement should Burke move on to Albany.
  • Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter of the 146th District (Amherst plus a part of Pendleton in Niagara County) won re-election in 2016 by only 1,414 votes. In 2017 Democrats surprised many folks by sweeping all town offices in Amherst. The town is probably the epicenter for the Democratic blue wave. Two potential Democratic candidates are making the rounds at the moment, Marc Cohen and Karen McMahon. This race will be one to watch in November.
  • The 60th Senate District is represented by Republican Chris Jacobs, who won comfortably in 2016. The only thing of note here is that the Democrats don’t have a candidate at the moment, but they do have someone who plans to challenge Jacobs even though he was as recently as last year a Republican, Kevin Stocker of Tonawanda. Stocker has previously run for the seat as well as several other public offices in Tonawanda and surrounding territory. The thing about this election is that even though Jacobs is not likely to be seriously challenged, the Democrats could wind up with egg on their face if Stocker by default were to be the Democrat on the ballot come November.
  • Congressman Chris Collins will have a challenger, most like Nate McMurray, the Supervisor of the Town of Grand Island. McMurray’s problem is that even though there are several issues he can seriously challenge Collins on, the national Democrats are not paying much attention to the race, which will leave McMurray to fend for himself in terms of raising money and organizing his campaign.
  • The last three Erie County Court judges to be elected all were unopposed. Running for a judicial seat can be expensive. That being said, it appears there will be party primaries this year for the seat that will be vacated by the retiring Judge Michael Pietruszka. Susan Barnes is the Democratic endorsed candidate, with Buffalo City Court Judge Debra Givens also entering the race. Judicial candidates can file petitions for all party nominations, so there will be a lot of jockeying going on as the year progresses.

And that’s about it. So political junkies will need to be content with watching the national and state campaigns. That shouldn’t be too hard to do.

What if Donald Trump owned the Buffalo Bills instead of being President of the United States?

Every week of the Trump administration brings new excitement. Not the kind of excitement that you can enjoy. More like the excitement of hundred foot drop of a roller coaster that might make you a bit sick.

As Trump jettisons some of the more intelligent and stable members of his administration we are being told by the pundits that he is “unshackled” from John Kelly, aiming to do and say as he pleases. So fasten your seat beats.

What we are talking about here is basically the fate of the United States and the world. But what if Trump’s act was played out on a more important stage for many residents of Western New York? What if, instead of being President of the United States, Trump instead was the owner of the Buffalo Bills? Continue reading

“Purity” in politics and how it plays into the 2018 elections

Conor Lamb’s apparent special election victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district is stunning. A district that has regularly sent Republicans to Congress; a district that gave Donald Trump a 20 point victory 16 months ago; a slam-dunk district that the Republicans spent more than $10 million trying to hold on to – falls to a Democratic first-time candidate. The blue wave moves on. Continue reading

If Giambra follows through with a Reform party candidacy he could rearrange the ballot in New York State; some observations on Trump and Salvatore

As elections go, the 2018 campaign for governor of New York is not off to what you might call a rip roaring start. Governor Andrew Cuomo has seen a drop in his poll ratings, and some are attributing that to the corruption trial of Joseph Percoco and others that has for the past several weeks put the seamier side of government and politics in Albany on display. Whether a trial with no conclusion will do additional political damage to Cuomo remains to be seen. Continue reading