Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cross-Endorsement Should Be Abolished in New York

By Mike Edelman

New York is one of only five states in the United States that permits one party to cross-endorse another. The policy is wrong because it allows minor parties with relatively low numbers of enrolled voters to accumulate power and leverage far beyond the number of people actually enrolled in that party. The consequences of cross-endorsement open the door to political extortion and, depending upon which party relies on cross-endorsements, in fact, ends up ultimately emasculating that party which becomes the proverbial dog being wagged by the
cross-endorsement tail.

Here in Westchester we have ex-perienced in recent years the cross-endorsement phenomenon between the
Republican and Conservative Parties, and prior to that experience New York Democrats had the same problem
with the Liberal Party, which they have since rejected out of self-preservation, and because association with Liberalism has, for years, been anathema. Westchester, which used to be a bastion of Republican strength, so
much so that naming a candidate virtually assured his election, has unfortunately succumbed to the bondage of cross-endorsement. First, it was just the Conservative Party at the controls, a Party which for years touted fiscally conservative principles and insisted that the candidates it supported subscribe to those same principles. Initially, this did not present much of a problem to Republicans because they too, were basically more conservative on financial, tax, and foreign policy issues. However, the Republican Party came to rely on
Conservative cross-endorsement year after year in order to elect and re-elect Republican candidates. But, then the dynamic changed drastically. Republican registrations, here in Westchester, began to tumble year after year.

The Conservative Party adopted the socially-conservative anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-gay positions of the Evangelical Right. And, to add to the mix, there emerged another minor party called the Independence
Party. Being outnumbered, Republicans felt the need to seek not only Conservative Party support, but
also support from the Independence Party as well. This empowered the leaders of those minor parties to not
simply support the candidate chosen by the Republican Party, because he or she happened to be closest to their
own political viewpoint, but more importantly, to dictate to the Republican Party just which candidates it should choose. Those dictates were not based on political philosophy, but rather upon the self-interest of the minor party. Simply put, the minor parties were empowered to literally extort, from the Republican Party, jobs, political contributions, and the very selection of who would run for office.

Witness the last gubernatorial election where Mike Long, Chairman of the State Conservative Party, dictated the Republican Party choice for both Governor and United States Senator. Long announced, early on, that he would not support any candidate for the Senate unless that candidate was pro-life. When Jeanine Pirro announced for the Senate, her nomination was dead on arrival, even before she lost the now-famous page ten at her initial press conference, because Mike Long would not accept her. The same was true for the Republican candidate for Governor.

Little-known former Assemblyman and lobbyist John Faso was prolife, whereas William Weld, former Governor of Massachusetts, was pro-choice. With the blessings of Mike Long, Faso prevailed, receiving the nomination, and, thus the meltdown of the State Republican Organization was etched in stone. Closer to home, the same thing was happening, only it involved the local Independence Party. Down over 100,000 in registration, as compared with the Democrats, the Republican Party needed to cobble together a coalition of minor parties in order to even have a chance of winning. They felt obligated to do business not only with the Conservative Party, but also with the Independence Party, now under the control of Giulio Cavallo.

The Independence Party is a party with relatively slight enrollment, which, because it uses the name Independence, tends to draw substantially more votes on its line than its registration. Why? Because many people who are non-party registered voters, upon seeing the word ‘Independence’ believe that it means Independent. However, it means just the opposite. The Independence Party is a party which began with a Ross Perot candidacy for President in the late 1980s and evolved into a ‘splinter group’ whose sole purpose for many
years has been to benefit themselves, and their friends, by leveraging their disproportionate electoral strength
in order to secure jobs.

Giulio Cavallo, himself, worked in a Republican State Senator’s of-fice on Long Island, raising money to influence the choice of candidates by cross-endorsing Republicans of his liking. The long-term effect of allowing
the cross-endorsement policy has been to diminish the ability of the Westchester Republican Party, as well as the State Republican Party, to select candidates of their own choosing, Republicans who could win the votes of Democrats and non-party registered voters, Republicans who are not beholden to the interests of minor parties as regards philosophy or the distribution of jobs.

It has been very sad to watch Republicans, who, in the bluest of Blue States, can win state-wide, become
the dog wagged by the minor party tail. But, that is precisely what has happened; and the sooner the Republican
Party regains the ability to choose its own candidates, the sooner it will be able to win both statewide, and here in Westchester County.

Realistically, it may take a few election cycles for Republicans to once again be a stand-alone party.
And, and it may require a few more hard losses, but, in the end, it will all be worth it if they take the steps
needed and are no longer dependent upon cross-endorsement. When that day arrives, the parties that cross-endorsed will have withered away. Naturally, it would be helpful if a legislator with the gravitas and insight to recognize the problem, would introduce a bill to ban cross-endorsement. But legislators, I fear, tend to be more concerned about their next election than about the health of the Two Party system. Despite that fact, cross-endorsement must be ended in New York State.

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