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The Last Moderate Republican May 3, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Arlen Specter, Jack Kemp, National Politics, Republicans.
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jack-kempI was saddened today to learn of the death of Jack Kemp, 73, former Republican Congressman and Secretary of HUD.  Mr. Kemp, who represented Western New York in Congress for 18 years, died of cancer last night in his Maryland home. 

Kemp captured the heart of Western New York as the quarterback of the Buffalo Bills in the late 1960’s.  Though he was a son of California, he made Buffalo his home during and after his football career.  He is remembered as a measured Republican politician – he once called himself a “bleeding-heart” conservative – and the people appreciated his warmth to and care for his constituency.  Jack Kemp never forgot that he represented minorities, women, businessmen, and union workers.  He was a true moderate Republican voice in Washington.

I worked for Jack Kemp as a student aide in the winter and spring of 1984.  I had first registered to vote as a Liberal in 1980.  I thought it was the thing to do.  I was a pro-choice, women’s rights, no-nukes and save the whales tree-hugger in those days.  Besides, it really pissed my father off – a HUGE benefit.  As I went through college, however, I began to get caught up in the whole idea of supply-side economics.  I was a fan (then) of Ronald Reagan and I believed in all the flag-waving strong defense, anti-commie rhetoric.  I changed my registration to Republican in 1983.  I still believed in all those liberal causes – but I also thought that “trickle-down” could work; less taxes and government spending could (and to a certain extent did) spur investment and growth.  I continued to be a Republican until 2003 – when I again re-registered – this time as a Democrat.  I did it because I came to believe two things; one, supply-side economics did not work and two, the Republican party was hijacked by ideologues that wanted nothing to do with Republicans like me. 

Jack Kemp’s death coming on the heels of Arlen Specter’s defection is a metaphor for the larger death of the Republican party.  Kemp, though a true conservative supply-sider, believed that the Republican party was the “party of Lincoln” and it should “look like America”.  He believed in extending a hand to minorities and bringing them into the fold.  He believed that his economic policies would be the rising tide that lifted all boats and worked tirelessly to prove to minorities and women that it could be so.  His ideas of inclusion were so respected that Bob Dole tapped him to be his VP in the 1996 race for President. 

In today’s Republican party, Jack Kemp would be scorned and marginalized – just as Arlen Specter found himself to be.

In Kemp’s heyday, the Northeast and New England states were represented by lots of Republicans.  These were people – like me – who wanted a smaller and less expansive role for government but were pretty liberal when it came to social issues.  New Yorkers sent plenty of Republicans to the Congress in those years.  We sent Nelson Rockefeller – a liberal by many measures but also a Republican – to be Vice President.  What a difference a decade or three makes.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the debate inside the Republican party is whether to resuscitate the patient via inclusion of more moderate voices or to continue the purge of those voices that are not in complete lockstep with the party line.  So far, the hard-liners are winning – and to the party’s detriment.

“Though wise men at their end know dark is right; Because their words had forked no lightning they; Do not go gentle into that good night.”  – Dylan Thomas

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All Eyes Turn to New York March 20, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Economic Stimulus, Economy, New York Politics, Politics.
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James Tedisco (R) and Scott Murphy (D)
James Tedisco (R) and Scott Murphy (D)

On March 31, residents of New York’s 20th Congressional District will vote to replace former Congressman and current Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.  The Republican standard-bearer is James Tedisco, NYS Assembly minority leader and veteran of New York’s infamous “three men in a room” system of governance.  The Dems are running Scott Murphy, a venture capitalist with ties to Wall Street that are quite unpopular these days.  A Libertarian candidate, Eric Sundwall, is also in the race but is not polling over 1%.

The race has garnered national attention – it is generally viewed as being a “referendum” on President Obama’s first few weeks in office.  Should Tedisco win, the Republicans will believe that their “just say no” strategy is resonating with some voters.  Murphy, who has come out in favor of the administration’s $800 billion stimulus, is being hammered by Tedisco with advertisements funded by national conservative PAC money.  The current strategy is to say that since Murphy approved of the stimulus, then he approves of the AIG bonuses.  When pressed during a debate on March 4, however, Tedisco announced his support of the stimulus – if all the waste were taken out.  Does that mean he also supports the AIG bonuses?  No answer from the Tedisco camp as yet….

The race is also being viewed as a test of RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s leadership.  The  National Republican Congressional Committee has poured over $340,000 into the race to defeat Murphy.  Republicans enjoy a 15% voter registration advantage in this largely conservative area of upstate – but have lost the district in the last two elections.  Gillibrand, a “conservadem”, was able to wrest the seat from Republicans on the strength of backing among independent and unaffiliated voters.  A recent Siena College poll (March 12) shows Murphy gaining on Tedisco, closing a 12-point gap to within the margin of error of 4%.  The reason?  Murphy is beginning to poll higher among independents and is, in fact, beating Tedisco in that bloc by 6 percentage points.  The key will be how the undecideds break – 13% remain uncommitted.

The funny thing about the race is that both candidates are pretty much the same guy.  Tedisco could be a “Republicrat” and Murphy a “Conservadem”.  A frustrated Eric Sundwall (Libertarian) made the observation after the first debate between the two, “It was hard for me to tell the difference between Jim Tedisco and Scott Murphy. They both don’t understand the severe economic implications that this country is in.”  That reflects the peculiar dichotomy of New York politics.  While the state is often viewed as full of wild-eyed liberals, upstate is far more conservative.  Anyone wanting to represent upstate MUST straddle both sides of the fence.  One wins by being the most artful at it.

The most interesting wrinkle in this election – as I see it – is that Jim Tedisco can’t even vote for himself in the election.  He doesn’t live in the district he’s fighting to represent.  Apparently he and his wife have a vacation home in Saratoga – which is in the district – but Mr. Tedisco is registered to vote in Schenectady – which is not.   Tedisco says it doesn’t matter where he lives, but the people in the district have begged to differ.  Everyone is up in arms over his lying in campaign ads saying that he live in Saratoga.  The North Country Gazette wondered in an editorial Wednesday – what if Tedesco lost the election by one vote?

Wouldn’t THAT be poetic justice?