NY GOP NEEDS DITCH-DIGGERS
Within minutes of this month’s election results, sources within the Republican establishment began calling for a change in leadership both in the Senate and at the State Party. They sounded a familiar refrain sung largely by power-seekers and political profiteers who have scarcely ever won an election but feel qualified to play Monday morning quarterback. The fact is most voters have no idea who State Chairman Ed Cox or Senator John Flanagan are, let alone understand the inner-workings of establishment politics.
What people do understand is that the voice of middle class taxpayers in New York is fading fast. Mere changes on a letterhead won’t solve that problem. A bold combination of infrastructure, messaging and engagement is the only way to give taxpayers and the Party a fighting chance.
First and foremost, the Republican Party needs real ditch-diggers. There is virtually no grassroots infrastructure and its redevelopment must begin in earnest. Party leaders at a county and town level must shed the dead weight on their committees starting now. Weak leadership in many places, particularly in bellwether counties in the suburbs, has led to stagnation at the town and county level within the Republican and Conservative Parties.
Each year fewer Committee members carry nominating petitions, work phone banks and knock doors to aid candidates. If a town of county chairperson won’t solve the problem, senior elected officials in those areas need to force a change in leadership.
Republicans can’t compete against the perpetual campaign of the left, bolstered by unions, the mainstream press and interest groups by being a small group of people who go to pig roasts, cocktail parties and think tank dinners but won’t do the tough spade work that actually wins elections.
Second, now is the moment for Senate and Assembly Republicans to articulate a real affordability agenda complete with income tax cuts, meaningful property tax reform, a full slate of pro-economic growth policies, political reforms like term limits to fight corruption, and even tort reforms that can lower healthcare costs. They must break with past practice and do this in partnership to help build a bench for the future.
Consider that not one of the Senate Democrats’ or the Governor’s legislative priorities is focused on reducing taxes, increasing affordability, or improving the economic climate. There is no job creation agenda. There is no plan to keep people here who are looking to abandon what the late Herb London called the “Vampire State.” Democrat priorities include late-term abortion, ending cash bail, eliminating tipped wages, legalizing marijuana, sanctuary state status, socialized medicine and voting reforms that would only help solidify their hold on power.
Senate Republicans particularly must resist their too-frequent urge to drift toward the center as they did when they clung to power. They must at long-last strike bright-line differences with Cuomo and Senate Democrats, forcing Democrats to openly oppose policies that benefit upstate, the Hudson Valley and Long Island.
Finally, there must be constant engagement. A rebuilt local and state party infrastructure and a bold agenda must be complemented by well-funded independent organizations willing and capable of being relentless in educating voters and pressuring elected officials to do right by taxpayers who bear the heaviest burden in the nation. That effort should also include bringing a real opportunity agenda to black, Latino, Asian and Indian populations across this state. We can’t be one New York and we can’t be prosperous if we perpetuate the dynamic where one political party takes minorities for granted and the other ignores them.
I’m not talking about more think tanks and good-government groups. GOP donors need to invest in organizations that will rally the fiscally-conservative majority in this state. The opportunity is enormous but fleeting. While Democrats often rely on the fringes of their party, paid activists and Astroturf groups to drive their message in the streets, Republicans’ big tent approach and broad appeal on fiscal issues give them an ability to reach more local voters outside of the boundaries of our noisy elections.
There is never one reason or one person responsible for any political victory or defeat. Ensuring that New York’s taxpayers have a voice in Albany will require a well-articulated message and aggressive strategy to convey it. Despite Democrat euphoria, the victors have a serious problem. They are increasingly being perceived as cow towing to a Progressive, if not Socialist left, that is out of step with the majority of voters who want lower taxes and less government intervention. If Republicans can re-engage taxpayers, the rebirth of the party won’t be wishful thinking but a real, viable resurgence.
Tom Basile is an author, columnist and former Bush Administration official. He served as Executive Director of the NYS Republican Party from 2009-2011 and ran unsuccessfully for State Senate this year.