03 June 2010

Working Families in Name Only?

The Working Families Party of New York State may be in a fight for its political life. As with any political party in the Empire State, its "life" is its place on the ballot. You get a higher spot alphabetically based on electoral performance, but you get nothing if your candidate for governor gets less than 50,000 votes. As a rule, Working Families endorses the Democratic candidate, expecting enough liberals or progressives to vote for that candidate on the WFP line to preserve their ballot position. This year, however, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic candidate, is reportedly reluctant to occupy the WFP line because the party is under investigation. So is the Independence Party, whose nomination Cuomo has accepted, but that's another story.

An anonymous Working Families sympathizer has introduced legislation in the state senate to change the election rules so that the party can preserve its ballot line by getting 50,000 votes in any statewide election. I found out about this by reading the New York Daily News, which denounced the scheme on its editorial page today.

The editors call it "an underhanded plan" and a "dirty deal" that would "lower the bar" of party viability. They seem to object primarily because the proposal is designed to benefit the WFP, which allegedly "embodies much of what's wrong with New York's dysfunctional government." The News thinks so because Working Families "is essentially a front for major labor unions and other narrow interests that thrive on the excessive state spending and too-high taxes that are sapping New York's economy." The Democratic and Republican parties, of course, aren't "fronts" for anything, especially not narrow interests. You may now scoff.

Meanwhile, Cuomo is still negotiating in hardball fashion with Working Families. He's reportedly worried that WFP will influence the upcoming Democratic primary for the Attorney General nomination by nominating one of the candidates on its own line. The New York Times reports that Cuomo has told the party to nominate "placeholders" for both AG and governor, the idea being that the placeholder AG nominee would not be one of the candidates for the Democratic nomination. Cuomo presumably believes that denying the WFP line to either of her rivals will help his favored candidate, Kathleen Rice. He supposedly holds out the possibility of accepting the Working Families nod on the implicit condition that the party also accepts Rice. The state election law allows the party to replace its nominees between convention or primary and election.

Such is the lot of an independent party in New York State, where ballot lines matter more than principled campaigns. Working Families is basically the "left" counterpart of the state's Conservative Party, the primary reason for each entity's existence being to pressure a more powerful party into nominating ideologically congenial candidates rather than winning power by running such candidates on their own. You have to look to the Greens and Libertarians and the Constitution Party, for starters, for genuine independent candidates. That judgment aside, I don't see anything wrong with the proposal that so bugs the News. Like them or not, the WFP is an established party and should not be relegated to some second class of parties that have to scramble for petitions to get on the ballot. Indeed, there shouldn't be a second class of parties at all, and if that makes things difficult when putting a ballot together, then the ballot itself ought to be reconsidered. That would give once-presumably principled parties like Working Families less cause to compromise themselves. Of course, given that the WFP opposes even the more modest idea of nonpartisan elections, it may be a lost cause, but real reform could only benefit more principled parties in the future.


Anonymous said...

Would they throw as big a tantrum if it were, say, the Conservative Party doing it instead of the WFP? It seems to me to make more sense to simply go by actual party membership. If the WFP can show 50,000 members in NYS, they should be allowed a line on the ballot.

hobbyfan said...

The Conservative Party, if memory serves, has at least a historical lineage. The Working Families don't, and have been shown to be vulnerable to having shadow or dummy candidates inserted under their umbrella to siphon votes from the opposition. That methodology undermines the WFP at its core.

Anonymous said...

Political parties, in general, undermine democracy.

Anonymous said...

It occurs to me that, from a certain perspective, all these groups like the WFP, the CP, the Green Party, et. al. are the modern equivalent of the "political machines" of the 19th/early 20th century. The leaders of these parties are "bosses". They offer the major party candidates a guaranteed block of votes in return for ???