Digifesto

Category: AD-64

What happened to Paul Newell?

I have mentioned Paul Newell–one of New York State’s Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver‘s first challengers in over twenty years–before on this blog.  Newell represented a departure from New York’s infamous “three men in a room” style of politics, since displacing Silver would have be a serious coup against a monolithic and unrepresentative political machine.

In the course of the primary, Newell’s grassroots fund raising effort outpaced Silvers by more than two to one.  Newell also garnered the endorsements of major New York newspapers including the New York Times, the New York Post, and the Daily News.

The day after the primaries, the New York Post reported Silver’s victory in the district with 68 percent of the vote against Newell’s 23 percent.

So what happened?

My guess is this: Newell had tremendous appeal across the state and even across the country as a good government reformer on the progressive “Change!” platform that has swept the Democratic party with Obama’s campaign.  But meanwhile, Silver has had 20 years to use his almost unsurpassed clout in the state legislature to support the entrenched groups in his district.  And ultimately, despite the impact of the election on statewide corruption and budgeting, the outcome came down to how Silver rebuilt ground zero seven years ago.

Like Sean Tevis’ campaign, this raises questions for me about the purpose of local elections.  In this case, where the locally elected official has such enormous statewide power, it feels like his office should be judged by a statewide tribunal of voters.  And indeed, I’m sure much of Newell’s support came from reform-minded people who could never cast a vote for him.  But meanwhile, Silver first and foremost is a representative of the Lower East Side, and apparently supports those constituents very well.  Were Newell’s supporters from outside that district just butting in where they have no business?

I don’t think so.  But I’m curious to hear what others say.

DNC reject lobbyist money

This is week-old news by now, but I just saw this New York Times article.

The Democratic National Committee, now operating under Barack Obama’s fundraising rules, on Friday returned about $100,000 in money from lobbyists and political action committees.

The donations were already ”in the pipeline” when Obama, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, instituted the standards for the committee, a party official said.

Generally speaking, I am deeply suspicious of party politics in the US. As the upcoming Newell/Silver election in AD-64 shows, party allegiance indicates almost nothing about whether a politician stands for real reforms. One of the appealing things about Obama, to me, was his apparent rejection of the party machine.

Perhaps this is a sign that Obama’s reform principles are politically infectious.

Thanks to Kailin Clarke for the tip.

Challenger challenge

Kim Hynes has cross-posted to the Common Cause blog urging readers in Connecticut to get political exercise by running for office against their incumbent representatives. As she points out, there are great democratic effects of challenged seats even when the challenger is not elected.

After I ran in 2004, many people would ask me if I `won’. I would tell them that I did win. I didn’t get elected, but I won. What I mean by this is that I became a better person because of the experience. Why, you ask – what good did it really do? I may not have gotten elected, but the electorate sure did get energized by my race. Hundreds of people showed up for the debates. People started talking about local issues that they care about. People got to know my opponent better, and found out how she stands on the issues. I provided reverse coat tails – in the areas in which I ran, the Congressional candidate did demonstrably better than in areas where the incumbents were unopposed. Finally, I provided the inspiration for a candidate in the next district over – who ran in 2006 and lost by just 200 votes. This year the incumbent in that district has decided to retire, and the same candidate has a very good chance at winning this seat – in a district considered unwinnable for challengers.

I’m wholeheartedly in support of Hynes’ call for challengers. But can there be too many challengers?

Yes and no. Yes, when we use a plurality voting system for our elections. FairVote succinctly sums up the problems of plurality voting:

Three is a crowd in our current voting system. Plurality voting, where the candidate with the most votes wins, is dysfunctional when more than two candidates run. It promotes zero-sum politics that discourage new candidates, suppress new ideas and encourage negative campaigns rather than inclusive efforts to build consensus.

Plurality voting weakens candidates the more their politics agree with each other. So two challengers both fighting for the same reforms against an entrenched incumbent can become each others’ greatest enemy.

But in principle, we should stand strong that No, there can’t be too many challengers. Rather, we should be working to change the system so that our democratic process can be as lively as possible.

As I write this, I am worried about the upcoming election in New York’s Assembly District 64. Paul Newell, who I’ve written about here before, has a challenger, Luke Henry, who appears to have less press but a sexier website. (That is, since he fixed up its blog section, which used to contain his del.icio.us page embedded in an IFrame.) So far I haven’t traced out their policy differences; I don’t think it should matter much, since the greatest strength of both is pluck and the promise of Albany reform.

I worry about the chance that they will split the protest vote. It’s unfair for them to have to work around that consideration (instant runoff voting would allow them to run in friendly, undistorted competition). My hope is that they can come to some agreement between themselves, and then add voting system reform to their toolbox for fixing Albany.

Paul Newell on a roll

In a google search for his name, Paul Newell is finally beating out his novelist competitor.

Meanwhile, Streetsblog shows Paul Newell some more love. Paul describes the fight he expects in June:

So you can start collecting signatures on June 3rd. You hand them in the second week of July. And you spend the next four weeks fighting a court battle against your incumbent, who will try to throw you off the ballot. Even if they think their case has no shot, they will try to throw you off the ballot, just to waste your time and money.

Sounds harrowing. But I have a feeling that any dirty tricks against Paul will ultimately work out in his favor. If he’s getting national attention from the likes of Matthew Yglasias, then there will be enough people watching this election for there to be a national rumble against Silver if he does anything egregious.