New Democratic Leadership — still a long ways to go; local judicial politics

The National Democratic Committee last Saturday elected former Labor Secretary Tom Perez as its new chair following a spirited contest that included Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison and several other candidates. Moving past the failed leadership of Debbie Wasserman Shultz and interim chair Donna Brazile, it’s a start, but only a start. It will be a long way back to relevance for the party.

It’s nice to have a National Chair who is originally from Buffalo, even if he left many years ago. Joe Crangle made a spirited but unsuccessful run for the position in 1982.

Perez made a nice move in selecting Ellison as a vice chair and Ellison was gracious in accepting the spot. Some Bernie Sanders loyalists may not be happy that their candidate, Ellison, did not get elected, but the way to influence such things as the election of a national chairman, like it or not, is from years of work, connections and an understanding of party politics. It is the ultimate in inside baseball. Those things played out better for Perez.

Day-to-day, national party organizations have a minimal effect on a party’s fortunes, which are best built from the ground up. The party has, as President Obama said after the 2010 elections, taken a “real shellacking.” Since that year the party has lost 10 senators, 63 members of the House, 12 governors and 902 state legislators. Republicans control 68 state legislative chambers compared to 31 for the Democrats.

The most important of those losses for the future of the Democratic Party have been among the governors and state legislators, the people who either have total control or a significant foothold in the process of redrawing congressional and state legislative seats. That control compounds nicely as gerrymandered districts solidify the hold on state houses and Congress. Except in the few cases where some of the state redistricting plans were determined to be illegal, the reapportionment of state legislative and congressional districts following 2010 could pay dividends for the Republicans through the 2020 elections. Except, possibly, for the Trump effect – more on that below.

The national party can certainly play a role in what comes next, but I would look to a couple other projects that are much better targeted to the job at hand. Former Attorney General Eric Holder is heading a group called the National Democratic Redistricting Committee that is working to challenge the gerrymandering of legislative districts. The aim of the Committee is to increase the number of Democratic state legislators, governors and members of Congress through electoral work, legal initiatives and, where possible, ballot initiatives.

The second program that is moving along is the Unrig the Map project. It is being organized by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, the chair of the Democratic Governors Association. That effort is specifically aimed at electing governors this year (Virginia and New Jersey) and in 2018, when 36 additional governorships will be on the ballot. Of those 38 governorships, the Republicans currently hold 27. At least ten of those seats that will be contested this year and in 2018 will be open seats, with the incumbent governor either term-limited or choosing not to run for re-election.

The incredible chaos, incompetence and conflicts of influence permeating the Trump administration already fill the Democratic Party with hope for 2018. Every day brings new questions that raise potential campaign issues that Republican members of Congress feel uncomfortable about. Given the bizarre polemics of Trump Brain Steve Bannon, none of this is likely to subside anytime soon. In fact, Bannon has said it will get worse.

It is easy for Democrats to get caught up in the euphoria but there is a need for caution. Just being against Trump is not enough. There needs to be a real effort to stand for something. Frankly that should be easier than usual, given all the opportunities that just float by each day that Trump pontificates. A general principle might be that Democrats want to actually help the people Trump promised to but is actually screwing.  Examples abound already and a good list should be easily compiled well in time for electioneering.

Trump and company claim to be working overtime trying to right their ship and to get back to real issues, but that is not too likely given the commander-in-chief’s uncontrollable and bizarre tendencies. There is still something to be said for the old political stand-by: “never interfere with the enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.”

But try to help it along wherever possible.

Judicial politics

While the races for Mayor of Buffalo and countywide offices may attract more political attention, there continues to be a lot of activity in upcoming judicial races. There will (at the moment) be two State Supreme Court seats on the ballot plus the County Court seat being vacated by Judge Tim Franczyk and the Surrogate Judgeship of retiring Judge Barbara Howe. A multitude of candidates are circling the political musical chairs.

Candidates for Supreme Court include incumbent Justice Erin Peradotto, County Court Judge Kenneth Case, City Court Judge Amy Martoche, plus Steve Cohen, John DelMonte, and Gerald Greenan. Potential County Court candidates include City Court Judge Susan Eagan and Susan Maxwell Barnes. Acea Mosey has essentially been elected Surrogate, lining up party endorsements and facing no challenger. Her biggest challenge will be donating the hundreds of thousands of dollars she has raised for the campaign that will not be much of a campaign, and then later refunding unspent balances to her donors.

Judge Case is considered by some as a favorite for one of the Republican nominations for Supreme Court in September. Amy Martoche seems to have an edge for one of the Democratic nominations, given that the header on her March 15th fundraising invitation asks potential donors to “Join Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner” for an evening with the candidate.

Here are a couple “word-on-the-street” items that are circulating. I don’t pretend to know if they are accurate or might occur. One such item says that Republican County Chairman Nick Langworthy is not really thrilled about endorsing Justice Peradotto; the bet would be that that will get worked out. The other rumor of note is that Surrogate Judge Barbara Howe might be interested in being appointed Administrator in the Surrogate’s Office after she leaves elective office; in other words, Judge Howe and current Administrator Mosey would simply switch jobs. Doesn’t that seem unlikely?

Aside from the forgone race for Surrogate there will be several local judicial races that will be seriously contested in party primaries, the party nominating conventions in September and the election in November. Off-year elections often favor the Republicans, who ignore elections in Buffalo to depress turnout there while attempting to run up their numbers in the suburban and rural areas. Maybe Trump’s toxicity will impact November turnout. Or could it be that a Schroeder versus Brown election will carry over until November and draw out Buffalo Democratic voters who might otherwise stay home?

2 thoughts on “New Democratic Leadership — still a long ways to go; local judicial politics

  1. Pelosi and the party leadership share responsibility (with others) for the nearly eight year slide. Party leadership has now changed. Yet Pelosi hangs on. Time to go.

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  2. In the County court arena if there is a primary then the Mayoral primary will truly help that primary and low republican turnout could assist a democratic crossover. Interesting thought . Nice article keep us posted. Your insight has been very incisive

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