Will Sanders crowd out the other progressive senators? And a couple footnotes on the Erie County Executive race

Welcome to Sunshine Week. Politics and Other Stuff does its part by writing about public institutions that need some sunlight. Sometimes it’s necessary to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

I haven’t watched American Idol or Survivor in a long time, but it seems like we are living in the political version of those TV reality shows at the moment. The Democratic presidential sweepstakes has people coming in; dropping out; trying to decide what to do – it seems like nearly every day.

I’m sure it is just a coincidence, but why did all the “progressive” senator Democratic presidential candidates all seem to enter the 2020 race in a bunch? And now there may be the march of the moderates – some governors, plus former Vice President Joe Biden. Is Beto O’Rourke in this bunch too?

Candidates will sort themselves out in their own lanes. The process may already be underway with the progressive senators, among them Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand.

There was a Des Moines Register poll out this past weekend that surveyed the whole field in Iowa. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were essentially tied at 27 percent and 25 percent respectively. The rest of the candidates were way back.

Much too much attention is focused every four years on Iowa. Polls at this time are mostly name recognition events anyway, so there is no point in getting too interested in such a poll. There are, however, some factors that seem to indicate that Bernie Sanders really is leading the progressives’ lane.

He has raised substantially more small-donor money off his initial formal announcement than the others. He is drawing good crowds and apparently has been putting a good campaign team together, although three major players from the 2016 campaign recently dropped out. His platform from 2016 has become a model for the other candidates in the progressive lane.

When a popular car model becomes all the rage, other manufacturers rush to copy it. Then the maker of the original popular vehicle tries to up the ante with new shiny features.

And so it has been going with Bernie and the progressive senators not named Bernie. Lots of them are onboard for medicare-for-all; and free college tuition; and jobs for all, and on and on. The candidates and their teams seem to feel that they must out Bernie, Bernie.

Democrats have generally had a good time letting Donald Trump twist in the wind with his “We’ll build a wall and Mexico will pay for it” schtick. It is a pipedream that he cannot deliver on, but his base seems content that he keeps talking about it.

Bernie and his wannabees actually have a similar problem. Medicare-for-all sounds great but is totally unattainable financially or operationally. Medicare buy-ins (as Congressman Brian Higgins is sponsoring) are still a stretch in this political atmosphere, but in the long run are much more doable.

Colleges are extremely expensive, and anything that can be done to reduce that burden for students and their families is admirable. But a free-college-for-all program would direct limited resources in the wrong way. Some families can (God bless them) pay for their children’s education, and they shouldn’t get a free ride. Other worthy students need help beyond tuition for fees, books and transportation.

Jobs-for-all is vaguely reminiscent of a 1970’s federal government recession fighting program, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, or CETA. CETA provided millions of dollars to local governments to hire people that they could not otherwise afford to hire. Most of those jobs were not really needed and provided few services of value.

The crowded progressive senators’ lane is full of people trying to out-Bernie, Bernie. They are all, like Donald Trump, pushing for things that are of somewhat limited appeal and financially unattainable. But those senators evidently feel that the Democratic base really wants those things.

To the extent that the non-Bernie senators are trying to emulate him, they are limiting their own reason for being in the race. For a progressive voter, why choose another candidate when you can have the original? Some of that crowded candidate lane will be gone by summer, and others will disappear when the voting starts next winter. There is not enough space in the lane for more than one or two of the progressives when things start to get serious in the spring of 2020.

If in fact Bernie Sanders does emerge as the leader of the lane, he will have a tougher go of things than he did in 2016. With more talk about the major planks of the progressive agenda will come more intense media scrutiny of what is being proposed. And of course, Trump and company will be glad to join in on the scrum.

There is value in the Democratic Party and the country having some debates about issues concerning universal health care, controlling higher education costs, and full employment. But what polls have recently demonstrated is that what Democrats want, most of all, is to remove Donald Trump from the White House. In the end that may trump everything. Who’s considered the most electable may be the deciding factor.

The Erie County Executive race

I’ll have more to write about the Erie County Executive contest in the weeks and months to come, but here are couple news items on the race:

  • As I noted in a Twitter post on March 5th, political gadfly and Pigeonista Peter Reese is circulating petitions to run in a Democratic primary for County Executive against Mark Poloncarz. No word yet on who may be helping Reese financially, or if he is a stalking horse for some other candidate or party. In past elections he has been a heavy donor to Conservative Party endorsed candidates.  If he secures enough signatures to qualify, no doubt they will be challenged. Stay tuned.
  • Republican candidate for County Executive Lynne Dixon, in an interview program on WBBZ this past weekend, indicated that she will during her campaign raise the issue of management of Erie Community College. Other county elected officials as well as the college’s Board of Trustees seem perfectly happy with how things are going at ECC. A public discussion about how tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money are being used could be interesting. The College is scheduled to appear before the County Legislature this week.

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