Carl Paladino has submitted what he claims to be far more than the number of petitions necessary to put his new Taxpayers Party on the official ballot for this fall's statewide elections in New York. Paladino is currently spending a lot of money on an insurgent campaign to upset "regular" candidate Rick Lazio in the Republican gubernatorial primary. He has stated recently that he will not run on the Taxpayers line alone if he loses to Lazio. If Paladino wins the primary, however, Lazio will remain on the November ballot as the candidate of the Conservative party. The Taxpayers party then enters the picture as an alternative to the Conservatives. While some right-wing New Yorkers prefer to vote for Republican candidates on the Conservative line (when the Conservatives haven't endorsed a Democrat), and thus may be tempted to vote Conservative instead of Republican if the parties have different candidates, Paladino has conceived the Taxpayers party as a way to contest the small-c conservative vote. If things go as Paladino hopes, he will argue that Taxpayers is the true home of Empire State conservatives, as opposed to the home of Rick Lazio.
Conservative party boss Mike Long resents this idea. He accuses Paladino of trying to "torpedo" the Conservatives. "Elections," he protests, "are not about trying to torpedo other parties." This is one of the year's more baffling utterances from a politician. As long as elections are contested among political parties, they certainly are about torpedoing rival parties. Republicans seek to torpedo Democrats, and vice versa, while independents, if they deserve the label, seek to torpedo both. Long affects horror at the thought that a new political party should seek to torpedo his own long-established organization. Implicit in his outrage is an unwarranted sense of entitlement. He seems to think that the ideological conservative vote in New York belongs to the Conservative party, to be delivered to Republicans (or the occasional Democrat) as Conservative leaders please.
Worse, this leader of an ostensibly independent party argues against Paladino and the Taxpayers using exactly the same "lesser evil" rhetoric that Republicans and Democrats use routinely against all independent parties. Long insists that conservatives "should be uniting forces to defeat Andrew Cuomo," the front-running Democratic candidate. Some Paladino supporters agree with that thought, but they have the admirable brazenness to argue that the principle will require Long to jettison Lazio and surrender the Conservative line to their man after Paladino wins the Republican primary.
The battle between Lazio and Paladino is a three-level struggle. Most obviously it's a fight for the Republican party line, but it's also another round in the long struggle to define conservatism in New York. When Paladino faces Lazio's ally, Long, it becomes a battle to redraw the playing field of independent (or pseudo-independent) politics in the Empire State. Whatever we may think of conservatives, there's no reason why they shouldn't have a choice of parties to vote for in elections. The Conservative party, or Mike Long himself, doesn't seem to believe in such a choice. New York's conservatives, Long seems to think, owe his party their loyalty. While there's no reason to think that Paladino's party would behave differently if it actually sinks the Conservatives, the Taxpayers certainly have as much right as anyone to enter the waters of political combat, and Long's protests to the contrary belie his own commitment to genuinely independent politics.