The Empire State GOP Has No Clothes

by Brooklyn Young Republican Club ~ July 3rd, 2010.


If it looks like a party, and it sounds like a party, then it must be a party, right?

Well, no…

One of the most glaring dysfunctions in the operation of the New York State Republican Party that I’ve noticed over the past several years is that we are hardly an organized party.  It’s really sad to see this because in a year where so much could be gained from teamwork, we are still lacking in the fundamentals of a healthy, vibrant and successful organization, whether locally or statewide.  (As a note, this pre-dates current Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, so it would not be fair to implicate him in this just yet.  However, he does have the power to decide whether the status quo stays or goes.)

Right now, the campaigning wing of the New York State GOP is made up of three major entities: the State Committee (the officially recognized governing body of the Republican Party in New York State), the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee (RACC), and the Senate Republican Campaign Committee (SRCC).

In my experience and that of many other candidates, none of them have anything to do with each other except for the fact that they share the word Republican in their names.

Essentially, the State Committee is the most pro-active in special elections and statewide races.  It otherwise rarely, if ever, provides hands-on operational assistance to make the party more competitive at the county level.

RACC only handles New York State Assembly campaigns.  SRCC only handles New York State Senate campaigns.  Essentially, with rare exception for a very select few of highly targeted races, it is every candidate for himself or herself anyway.

In fact, the reason why we have done so poorly as a party (and it remains to be seen whether we will actually maximize a return on our investments this year as part of the anti-incumbent wave) is that the Empire State GOP has no clothes.

If we were to compare the Republican Party in its current state to a period in history, it would be the Middle Ages.  In the absence of active communications, consistent, unified messaging of our principles, sharing of resources and mutual collaboration and support for fellow party members, the Party of Lincoln in our Great State has devolved into an unwieldy confederation of aging local feudal warlords, feeding their factions with whatever crumbs of patronage and cash are left before the other local Republican faction, or the local Democratic Emperor, wipes them out for good.

The Senate Republicans, for their own personal benefit, have long sold out to the Democrats the hope of regaining anything close to a majority in the State Assembly–or a Republican majority anywhere else but the State Senate.  In a few counties, I have heard that incumbent Senate Republican candidates are not even carrying petitions with any Republican Assembly candidates names on them.  In fact, the incumbent Republican Senators probably can’t even name all of the Assembly Candidates whose names would be sharing the same Republican ballot line in November.

Again, with very rare exception, I haven’t seen Senate Republican candidates and Assembly Republican candidates campaigning together at all.  More importantly, I have hardly–if ever–seen a statewide candidate campaign with and for a Senate or Assembly candidate.

What’s even more disconcerting is the fact that on the State Republican Party’s own website, among a list of statewide candidates, Congressional candidates and State Senate candidates, not a single Republican Assembly candidate is listed. Perhaps they don’t know who they are, as unfortunately is the case for most voters when they get into the booth for the General Election, or they don’t care, or worse yet, both.

The point is that without a clear and coherent statewide message, and the requisite teamwork for attracting as many votes on the Republican line for candidates up and down the ballot line, we are going to miss out on a tremendous opportunity this year to level the playing field of politics in New York and clean up the mess as professional, principled government reformers.

Again, Bill Hammond of the NY Daily News said it best:

But the stunning fact is, with five months to go before Election Day, voters like the GOP even less. Democrats hold solid double-digit leads in every statewide race, and not a single Republican has broken 30%.

Think about that. New York’s Democrats are the ones who brought you former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and his hooker habit, a massive pay-to-play scandal in the pension fund under former Controller Alan Hevesi, Gov. Paterson’s floundering, weak-kneed leadership, the month-long shutdown of the state Senate last summer and a seemingly endless parade of legislators in handcuffs.

Beating at least some of these guys should be like shooting fish in a barrel. But the Republicans are losing – and losing badly.

They have no one but themselves to blame. They don’t have a compelling message as a party. They haven’t managed to recruit A-list candidates. And they aren’t raising money.

In short, they’re failing to play the vital role of holding Democrats accountable for their many failures.

Democrats “are not paying a price because there’s no Republican Party,” says Republican consultant Ed Rollins. “If there was an opposition party in this state, if there was competition, they would pay a price.

The best reform we could seek for the party in this state is an imitation of the political dynamics we see nationally, and for the sake of illustration, I’ll use some of the candidates that we have now to demonstrate what I mean.

Rick Lazio, as the designated party candidate for Governor, should be making scheduled appearances with every Republican Assembly and Senate candidate in the state within their own districts, regardless of the anticipated Republican vote potential in that district.  That includes any mailings or literature that gets distributed (at shared costs between the campaigns, of course).  You can, and should, always be more selective with where to campaign right before the election, but not throughout the campaign.  Everyone must count if we are to make any headway.

The Lazio campaign, in consultation with the appropriate local and statewide campaign committees, should be cultivating talking points for all the candidates based on the best Republican solutions for the problems plaguging New York State government.  Most of these candidates are actually running to get elected, so they will do much of the leg work for you if you just try to coordinate and reach out.

Even if there is a Republican primary for a local race, in the absence of a gubernatorial primary, both candidates should profess their support for the message and platform that everyone has a hand in developing.  The central theme of such a primary contest should be, in fact, who is better able to execute that unified platform on behalf of the people of the district.  If there were a gubernatorial primary as well, then each candidate can and should choose who they want to work with if elected to public office, and run with that gubernatorial candidate.  After all, Congressional candidates, while campaigning on local issues of relevance to their particular districts, still frequently mention how they are running to support President ______’s agenda, or Speaker _______’s agenda, or Senate Leader ______’s agenda, especially if they are trying to elect that person to that particular office.  In marginal districts, the President or the de facto leader of the party always goes out to campaign in support of someone who will be supportive of his/her agenda in office.  Lazio should be doing the same thing, and not just for the State Senate.

If we cobbled together a strategy like this, even if we may be too late to make great headway this year, it would lay the foundation for a remarkable transformation by the next state legislature elections in 2012 and gubernatorial election in 2014.

After all, even more impressive for our party is not the prospect of a Governor Rick Lazio or Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, but an Assembly Speaker Brian Kolb.

If we are working together, it won’t just be an idea scribbed on a blog, but a palpable reality within our grasp.

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