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How You Move Politics to the Left

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Eric Levitz has a good summary of the year of progressive legislation passed by the legendarily dysfunctional, corrupt, and reactionary assembly in Albany:

Yet it is precisely Albany’s well-earned reputation for graft and dysfunction that has made recent events in that miserable municipality so heartening.

Last week, New York’s state government wrapped up a historically productive — and progressive — legislative session, which included the passage of 20 major laws. Some of these were almost inevitable from the moment Democrats won control of the State Senate last fall. Strengthening gun-control laws, abortion protections, and LGBT rights has long been part of Andrew Cuomo’s agenda, and the legislature passed important bills on all those fronts, as well as voting rights, by January’s end. Measures to restrict the use of cash bail, close the gender wage gap, aid Dreamers, and reform campaign-finance laws soon followed.

But New York Democrats did not restrict their ambitions to areas of longtime intraparty consensus.

For nearly two decades, progressives had been fighting to give New York’s undocumented population access to driver’s licenses. In the session’s closing weeks, liberal lawmakers finally realized that ambition despite a groundswell of opposition from law-enforcement groups, Republicans, and moderate Democrats. Then progressives defied the will of virtually all of the state’s major industry groups by enacting the most ambitious climate legislation in the U.S. to date. Finally, New York Democrats achieved the unthinkable: They passed major housing legislation that prioritized the interests of working-class tenants over those of landlords and developers.

It’s hard to overstate the significance of that last development. The New York State Legislature breaking with the real-estate lobby is a bit like Iran’s Consultative Assembly defying its ayatollah. 

Two obvious takeaways:

–For the umpteenth time, if you want parties to move in a particular direction winning primaries is an infinitely better strategic approach than third-party consumer wank voting. The evidence is utterly unambiguous on this point. Working within parties provides greater upside and far less downside. And this is a particularly stark example. New York liberals tried to use the fusion ballot to leverage politicians and produced political outcomes far to the right of the electorate. Then they activated to get rid of the IDC traitors and voted to put partisan Democrats in office and presto, an ambitious progressive agenda passes. But then, at bottom at third party voting in the American system is really just pouting and locking yourself in your room because mommy wants you to clean it and trying to come up with ad hoc justifications after the fact (if you even bother with them at all.)

–People on the broad left focus too much on the executive branch and not enough on the legislative branch. The one major primary fight New York liberals lost was the (justified!) battle to oust Cuomo. Only given a progressive legislature to work with, he…signed the good legislation that was put on his desk, which was a lot. A more liberal governor with the IDC still in charge of the Senate would have accomplished far less. I assume the lessons of this for 2020 are too obvious to be belabored.

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