SHOUT!: WHY GOVERNOR ELIOT SPITZER'S SUCCESS IS CRUCIAL FOR THE WHOLE COUNTRY, NOT JUST NEW YORK
This is the first time Andrew White is posting on DWT but he is a longtime friend of the blog, our reliable Upstate New York connection-- and the man who first got us together with Congresswoman-elect Kirsten Gillibrand. He's the president of Democracy for the Hudson-Mohawk Region, a grassroots organization centered in Albany, NY, that grew out of the Presidential campaign of Gov. Howard Dean. He is also heavily involved in the statewide coalition, Democracy for New York. In fact, following the urging of Gov. Dean in 2004 he infiltrated the Democratic Party and works under cover as the Chair of the Stephentown Democratic Committee and on the Rensselaer County Democratic Executive Committee. Andrew blogs at The 10,000 Things. He hails from a multi-generational activist family and is just happy to have the opportunity to keep up the family tradition of trouble making. We hope he'll make plenty of trouble here at DWT whenever he likes.
The Democratic New Year began in New York State at the stroke of midnight January 1 and the swearing in of Eliot Spitzer as Governor. His first official act was to issue five executive orders, three of which signaled the beginning of his efforts on ethics reform. Washington, DC and K Street have nothing on Albany. [In fact, while Inside the Beltway Democrats soft-peddle the tough reforms that would mandate real change, Spitzer is going all the way. He's the real thing, not some kind of Obama/McCain-model poseur.]
New Years Day was an Inauguration Celebration paid completely from Governor Spitzer's campaign fund (not state funds). The evening was capped by a concert featuring James Taylor and Natalie Merchant. JT was a pleasure to hear. As a nice bonus Judy Collins and her crystal clear voice sang "This Little Light of Mine" to wrap up the swearing ceremony in earlier in the day. Her voice remains something special.
Today, January 3, featured Governor Spitzer's (I like saying that-- kinda like saying Representative Kirsten Gillibrand-- you can expect to hear me say both a lot) ("Democratic Majority"-- I like the sound of that as well) (and "Speaker Pelosi" and "Chairman Conyers" and... ok, ok, ok) ... featured Governor Spitzer's... first State of the State address.
Spitzer made his reputation as State Attorney General. The "Sheriff of Wall Street" as some call him. The expectations are high. The speech and agenda are ambitious. He titled it "One New York." As a grassroots activist I think I'll take from one of his lines and suggest that we call it "Shout!"
The task before Mr. Spitzer is huge. A couple years ago the Brennan Center for Justice issued a report, The New York State Legislative Process: An Evaluation and Blueprint for Reform, in which they rightly called New
York's government the "most dysfunctional legislature" in the 50 states (If you think Washington is bad, wait until you learn about the "three men in a room"). Earlier this year they released a second report on Unf
inished Business: New York State Legislative Reform.
The role the first report played was astounding. Everyone knew Albany was broken but no one had quantified it. The label "most dysfunctional legislature" stuck immediately. Naming and defining it made it seem possible to change it whereas before it seemed a hopeless task.
Governor Spitzer (aaaah) began his speech today with the usual obligatory niceties and then began to
make his case. We, by the way, We the People, are his case.
Indeed, the tide is already starting to turn. New Yorkers have
resoundingly rejected the status quo....
Governor Spitzer was elected in a 69% landslide. His is a mandate for change.
And just two days ago, in my first action as Governor, we implemented a series of self-imposed ethics, campaign finance and lobbying reforms to send a message to all that change is here
and it starts with each of us.
Today I will outline the change we must seek together if we are to restore New York as a beacon of hope and opportunity.
I report to you that the condition of many New Yorkers is superb, but whole communities have been left behind; that our future is bright, but that our government is in disrepair.
As the world has transformed and moved forward, it is only Albany that has
That is why New Yorkers have demanded change. They have challenged us to stop standing still and start confronting the status quo.
Perhaps most of all, they have challenged us to change the way we work here in Albany. If we don't manage to find consensus, we will not be able to adapt to the changing world around us.
No single person is responsible for this situation, but we are all responsible for changing it. So let us choose the path New Yorkers have chosen for us-- the one of pragmatic politics instead of partisan politics, results instead of empty press releases, action instead of gridlock.
Many entrenched interests will try to block this new path in order to maintain the status quo that has
worked so well for them. They will play on our fears and offer us false choices and easy ways out. They will seek to divide us along party, geographic, racial and economic lines, pitting each of us against the other. But it's the easy way out that has gotten us to this point in the first place, and it is division that has kept us from moving forward.
The future of New York does not belong to the army of the status quo. The future belongs to those who seek change.
It was interesting to listen to the applause. The entrenched members of the legislature know "there is a new sheriff in town" but they don't know how much change will really be forced on them. None of us do. How much can one man move the immovable object? There were plenty of pauses for applause but very few peals of thunder. I think they are scared of him. As is human nature, scared of
One man? In his inauguration speech he echoed Teddy Roosevelt:
As New York's former Governor Theodore Roosevelt once remarked, there can be no great progress without first entering the arena. My fellow New Yorkers: join me in that arena.
Lend your sweat, your toil and your passion to the effort of building One New York of which we can all be proud.
My fellow New Yorkers. Our moment is here. Day One is now.
One man? Today he said:
Our job is to heed the voices for change and govern on the principle of One New York, a type of politics and a series of policies based on the idea that our common interest serves our individual interests, that we rise and fall together as one people, One New York.
As I often say, you can't change the world by whispering. New Yorkers didn't whisper for change on Election Day; they shouted for it.
And we must not stop shouting. One man cannot move the immovable object. But We the People can accomplish any goal we set our minds and our hands to. In both speeches the Governor issued challenges to the legislature to take up the cause of change and not be afraid of it. In both speeches he immediately called upon We the People to be his sledgehammer in
making it actually happen.
Governor Spitzer then launched into a very ambitious agenda covering a broad range of topics. He rightly started with reform.
Our first objective is to reform our government-- not merely for the sake of reform, but because if our state is to prosper again, we need a government that is a catalyst for change instead of an impediment...
First, we must work together to reform state government.
This reform must target two areas: First, we must enact comprehensive ethics reforms. Second, we must enact structural reforms to transform our government from one that is designed to resist change to one that is designed to embrace it.
We gather here today with the front-page stories of scandal fresh in our minds and the minds of all New Yorkers. We are in danger of losing the confidence of those who elected us. To restore their confidence, we must overhaul our campaign finance, lobbying and election laws.
To neutralize the army of special interests, we must disarm it. In the coming weeks, we will submit a reform package to replace the weakest campaign finance laws in the nation with the strongest.
Our package will lower contribution limits dramatically, close the loopholes that allow special interests to circumvent these limits, and sharply reduce contributions from lobbyists and companies that do
business with the state.
But reform will not be complete if we simply address the supply of contributions. We must also address the demand. Full public financing must be the ultimate goal of our reform effort. By cutting off the demand for private money, we will cut off the special-interest influence that comes with it.
We also must address lobbying reform to restore the public's faith in government decision-making. In the coming weeks, we will propose legislation that fully bans gifts to elected officials and strengthens the “revolving door” law, which still allows legislative employees to immediately lobby their former colleagues.
Still, we must do more. We will submit legislation that reforms our elections-- specifically legislation that establishes an independent, non-partisan redistricting commission. Until this happens, I will veto any proposal that reflects partisan gerrymandering. More competitive elections will lead to a more responsive government.
Back in April of last year I had the pleasure of hosting and introducing then Attorney General Spitzer at our 2nd Annual Democracy for New York State Conference. We were lobbying him hard on a paper ballot/optical scan voting technology
solution. Our dysfunctional legislature had punted the decision down to the counties to make their own choices. What a mess. It had been hinted he might say something about changing this in this
speech. Guess not. Just gives me something to continue to "SHOUT!" about. In April he hadn't taken a firm position yet but through negotiations and discussions with us has agreed that a statewide PB/OS solution is the best available to the state.
He covered education, the environment, renewable energy, health care, jobs, etc, in the speech but here in New York it all starts with reform of our broken state government.
Governor Spitzer is an intelligent and capable man. He faces a daunting task but he has the tools (We the People) to work with. Democrats were given an overwhelming mandate for change by the voters of this state. Democrats are only 3 seats away from taking control of the State Senate, the last bastion of Republican power in the state. One special election will be coming up and that may
drop to 2 seats. The Republican Majority Leader is under investigation by the FBI and if we are lucky that will mean another special election and potentially a 1 seat Republican majority.
The most dysfunctional legislature, the most dysfunctional state government, in the nation has the
opportunity to become the New York Miracle. The leadership is there. The need for change is apparent. The people are aware of the problem and the need. Now is the time for action. If even half of Mr. Spitzer's agenda can be accomplished then it will be a grand example of what progressive, reform minded Democrats can accomplish when given the mandate for change. A shining example for
the entire country of why progressive, reform minded Democrats make for the best in American government.
What say we give this man a hand, eh?