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November 6, 2006

Working Families Party no more
Posted by Patrick at 07:35 PM * 33 comments

Attention Conservation Notice: relevant only to left-leaning voters in New York state.

I don’t have time tonight to write a summary of the arcane history of cross-endorsement and fusion voting in New York state. Suffice to say I’ve been a supporter, albeit a low-key one, of the Working Families Party, generally voting for Democratic candidates on their line. I also donate a (small) amount of money to them every month, automatically charged to a credit card.

I won’t be voting on their line this year, and I won’t be contributing further money their way. This despite the fact that they’re nice people whose official blog links to ours. Here’s why. Steve Gilliard has more. And Katha Pollitt pretty much sums it up:

The theory is you need supporters in both parties, and if you’re not loyal to incumbents who support your cause, you lose your leverage. That rationale explains why in 1998 the gay rights organization Human Rights Campaign supported the sleazy anti-choice conservative Republican Sen. Alfonse D’Amato against his Democratic opponent, Chuck Schumer. In 2004, in return for his role in raising the minimum wage in New York state, the Working Families Party supported Nick Spano, a longtime Republican state senator from Westchester, against his Democratic challenger, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a progressive black woman. She lost by 18 votes. Thanks, WFP, for shoring up the GOP majority in the New York state Senate.
This year, the Working Families Party isn’t endorsing the disgusting, vote-suppressing Spano, they’re just declining to endorse at all—despite the fact that Stewart-Cousins is very credibly challenging him again. It appears to flow from the same logic: we need “friends in both parties” in order to have a seat at the table.

That’s the logic of an era in which there were decent Republicans. That era is over. I’m voting the straight Democratic line. Not because there aren’t Democrats who are hypocrites, cowards, idiots, and fools. But because the Republican Party, nationally and locally, is in 2006 nothing more or less than a criminal conspiracy to destroy our democracy and loot our country. Their candidates, for every office, need to be defeated wherever they run. If you don’t see that you don’t get my vote.

Comments on Working Families Party no more:
#1 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 08:43 PM:

Perhaps not only relevant to NY voters. Do you think this demonstrates something important about fusion voting? Massachusetts ballot question 2 is about fusion voting. The big arguments for it seem to be that it would weaken the 2-party system that is becoming something close to an effective single-party system. The main arguments against it seem to be that it's weak and confusing.

Recent incidents in NY seems to suggest that your fusion voting enabled something worse than weakness and confusion, something actively destructive to progressive politics. Did I misunderstand something?

#2 ::: Huey ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 08:58 PM:

That�s the logic of an era in which there were decent Republicans. That era is over.

I disagree. See my Republican voter guide.

#3 ::: Suzanne M ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 09:01 PM:

Thanks for this post, Patrick. I usually do what you do, voting the Democrats on their line (except that there seems to be usually one guy on my ballot endorsed by Working Families who's also endorsed by the Right to Life party and... ugh, no), but not this year.

#4 ::: Dave MB ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 09:13 PM:

I voted for the Massachusetts ballot initiative that Adrian mentions in #1, but not without some misgivings. Grace Ross, the Green/Rainbow candidate for governor, is against it because she thinks that the way to build progressive parties is to have them run their own candidates -- she supports instant runoff voting to deal with the Nader 2000 problem. Our state-level WFP is the prime backer of the fusion amendment. I don't have direct reason to think that they are now the kind of Machiavellian slimeballs that the NY state WFP (or the earlier NY Liberal Party) appear to be. But there is the possibility that the fusion voting system encourages this in some way that's not immediately clear to me.

I agree with Patrick that not joining with the Democrats nationally is collaboration with Evil. But in MA there are Democrats and there are Democrats, and the GOP are little threat for very many offices other than governor and are thankfully being humiliated there tomorrow. So we have the luxury of working for the Democratic Party we want, which can mean opposing individual Democrats. I like fusion voting for the very reasons Ross opposes it -- it encourages the left wing of the party to work within the party rather than against it.

#5 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 09:24 PM:

I'd come to the same conclusion, and before the suspensions of habeas corpus and posse comitatus plus the creation of Halliburton detention centers.

I'm terrified of the election tomorrow because I'm really afraid that I'm going to be watching Karl Rove lay claim to his Thousand Year Empire.

True or not, I've been pushed well past trusting political process -- so I'd really like to be proven wrong and see at least the House change hands. If it doesn't, I'm starting to wonder if I should take me and mine and get out while the getting is to be gotten.

#6 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 09:35 PM:

Huey, I would parse Patrick's sentence as "That's the logic of an era in which there were decent Republicans to vote for." Obviously there still are many decent Republicans like yourself. I wish you the best of luck and hope we can soon put an end to the politics of corruption and destruction.

#7 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 09:37 PM:

Yes: decent Republican candidates. I'm not making a categorical statement about their supporters.

#8 ::: Cathy ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 09:56 PM:

I haven't lived in NY for a while, but if Spano is who I think he is, he's one of the few remaining pro-choice republicans in the state senate. These days, that's enough for some people. It's certainly my make or break issue at the federal level.

#9 ::: Red (Chris Holdredge) ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 10:49 PM:

Another vote of thanks. I really should, but I haven't been following downstate races closely enough to understand how much damage they could do with this foolishness. Progressives in this state haven't had Senate prospects this good since before Nixon. I would never have pulled a lever for the WFP if I'd suspected they'd use the influence I helped give 'em to become another Green party on a smaller stage. Needless to say, I won't be pulling any in row E tomorrow.

#10 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 11:05 PM:

This is why I like The Grange.

They spearheaded the "open primary" movement in Washington State in the 30's. When the recent Supreme Court ruling struck it down, they immediately began funding attempts to set up a similar, legal system. They asked the head of the Grange about it a couple of years ago and he said "Well, we're dying out and we have all the old Grange halls we can sell to pay for lawyers, and it's just as good an idea now as it was in the 30's."

Yes, it is. And I feel sorry for all of you that never had a chance to vote under an "open primary."

#11 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 11:13 PM:


I'm in a state of permanent outrage over the imposition of partisan primaries in Washington; no matter how often the people of the state vote to say that political parties are mere voluntary affinity groups, the courts keep handing the government over to them.

#12 ::: Maximus ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 11:43 PM:

The WFP almost singlehandedly got NY state's minimum wage raised recently.

I agree that their endorsement of Spano was ill-considered. But writing off the entire party for this one act seems a little precipitous.

One could as easily write off the entire Democratic party because some Democrats voted for the Iraq War, which enabled the criminal actions of the Bush administration. Where do you draw the line?

I'm voting for Eliot Spitzer on the WFP line, in order to strengthen a progressive third party and reduce the power of the existing duopoly.

#13 ::: Stanford Matthews ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 11:53 PM:

Special interest and lobbyists work both sides of the aisle. Career politicians have taxpayer funded perks to look forward to in retirement from public life. But before retirement they also have lobbying to look forward to for themselves. Nice money if you can find it. They have developed strategies for all likely outcomes. For them, life is good.
The only way to break this cycle of corruption is voter imposed term limits. The only successful way to do that is voting against incumbents. Two or more cycles with incumbents defeated will send the only message politicians understand. But the public is guilty of complicity in this corruption for ignoring this tactic.
In a futile attempt to support this proposition I urge everyone to vote against incumbents. If we don't, the sham of party politics will continue.

#14 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 08:10 AM:

Apropos of nothing, I am always amused when Republicans support term limits. They pushed them in to make sure we'd never have another 4-term President like FDR and then they came up with Eisenhower, who they could have run until he died, and Reagan, who they could have run even after he died. Don't know about Eisenhower, but I remember the small push during Reagan's second term to get Presidential term limits repealed.

Then there was the push during the "Contract With America" to get term limits installed to help insure "churn" of the Senate and the House. Two terms later we started getting folks like George Nethercutt, who basically argued that it was right to vote him in based on his support of term limits before he was elected but they shouldn't hold him to that since he was finally getting enough clout to help the state...

#15 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 08:49 AM:

One could as easily write off the entire Democratic party because some Democrats voted for the Iraq War, which enabled the criminal actions of the Bush administration. Where do you draw the line?

We've all got our gut issues. Mine is the overriding need to beat back the modern Republican Party. Which is no longer a political party in the normal sense, but something between a criminal conspiracy and a neo-fascist movement.

I'm voting for Eliot Spitzer on the WFP line, in order to strengthen a progressive third party and reduce the power of the existing duopoly.

Whereas I think the two-party system is an emergent property of America's peculiar constitution, so I don't think "the power of the existing duopoly" is going to be reduced short of signifiant constitutional changes. I further think an enormous amount of progressive energy has been wasted over the years trying to build third parties. I liked the WFP's approach because in fact it has very little to do with pointless efforts to "reduce the power of the existing duopoly"; indeed, quite the contrary, it depends on maintaining that power in order to be effective. I still think it's a clever piece of political jiujitsu, but I no longer agree with the uses to which it's being put.

#16 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 09:07 AM:

Patrick #15: The two-party system is an emergent property of the legislation which provides for election to the House of Representatives and to state legislatures from single-member districts by cardinal vote. Electoral systems with multi-member districts and/or ordinal voting would be likely to produce more political parties, and would not violate the Constitution.

#17 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 09:32 AM:

I happened to see Andrea Stewart-Cousins this morning--she was shaking hands outside my polling place--and I told her I hoped she could make the WFP pinheads regret not endorsing her. She said she was just thankful that they withheld their traditional endorsement of Spano--last election he got 1800 votes on the WFP line, or 100 times as many votes as his margin of victory.

Withdrawing their endorsement from a moderate Republican with past support and broad popularity was, in fact, a big move for WFP. I agree with you that it wasn't nearly enough--Spano is, as you say, a disgusting vote-suppressor. But it's something.

#18 ::: Ernie ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 09:48 AM:

Working Families is relevant in MA as well. We only call a party a party once they get 3% on a statewide election. They are trying to get 3% on the state Auditor race (a democrat running otherwise unopposed).

#19 ::: Stephen G ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 10:46 AM:

And then there is Alabama, where the Republican governor tried to fix our broken tax system and shift some of the tax burden from the state's many poor to the well-off. Riley's tax plan was soundly defeated at the polls, and his Democratic opponent has been yelling loudly that Riley wants to raise taxes and, if elected, she'll cut taxes. Given that plus Riley managing to serve his term without scandal, a major accomplishment down here, I'll be casting at least one vote for a Republican.

#20 ::: Alex R ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 11:17 AM:

Patrick, I'm curious what your opinion is about your Mayor.

Bloomberg has struck me as a pretty decent guy, and seems to have been a pretty good Mayor. If I lived in New York City, he's the sort of person I would ordinarily vote for. Stephen G's comment above says that Alabama Governor Riley is another decent Republican, and I have no reason to disagree.

In these times, though, if either of these gentlemen were on my ballot (and I know Bloomberg is not currently up for reelection), I would not even consider voting for him, just because of the "R" next to his name.

You say that there are no decent Republican candidates -- I don't exactly agree. But it doesn't matter, because even a vote for a *decent* Republican candidate lends support to the party of the President. As you say, "Their candidates, for every office, need to be defeated wherever they run" -- no matter how wonderful that individual candidate is. If a decent Republican wants my vote, he or she can hope to get it in only one way: by renouncing the Republican party and running off the Republican ticket, preferably as a Democrat.

(A corollary to the "Always Weaken Republicans" axiom is "Support Nearly Every Democrat", as the Democratic Party is the strongest countervailing force to the Republican Party. Only if a Democrat is so bad that supporting them would actually weaken the Democrats and strengthen the Republicans should alternatives be considered.)

#21 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 11:30 AM:

Alex @#20: IANPNH, but I've lost some respect for Bloomberg in the last couple of weeks as he held fundraisers for Lieberman and shipped him a plug-and-play GOTV operation.

I've been too busy stressing out to really appreciate the wacko dynamics of the CT race, where Republicans are busy whacking their own candidate to support Joe. Having watched Schlesinger in the last debate, I have to say the guy's smart and presents very well, though I disagree with him on most issues. He's also hopping mad about how his party has abandoned him to chase after Joe. I'd be happy if lots of Republicans went home to the real Republican in the race along with Dems coming home to the real Democrat, and I wonder if some of that will happen in the privacy of the voting booth.

#22 ::: Maximus ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 11:50 AM:

...I don't think "the power of the existing duopoly" is going to be reduced short of signifiant constitutional changes. I further think an enormous amount of progressive energy has been wasted over the years trying to build third parties.

I agree that supporting third parties can be a waste of energy, and that making the Dems more progressive is the best strategy. I like fusion voting because it allows for doing both.

Ultimately I'd like to see proportional representation instituted in more states and localities. This is the system used in some European countries, where in essence you cast multiple votes. You can allocate all of them to one candidate, or you can split them among multiple candidates. And each district sends multiple representatives to the legislature.

This would mean that, say, a 2/3 Republican, 1/3 Democrat Congressional district would be able to send 2 Repubs and 1 Dem to Congress, instead of totally disenfranchising its Democratic voters, as happens under the current "winner-take-all" system.

It would also mean that third parties would become truly viable. A place like NYC or Berkeley could send a Green or two to Congress along with their Democrats. (We'd no doubt see some fringe rightist parties achieve electoral success as well.)

PR can be instituted without changing the Constitution. In fact I think it already exists in one or two localities in California.

#23 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 12:21 PM:

This is worth considering, but on balance I'm still pulling Spitzer on the WFP line.

A-B-C Dem WFP Rep on next years ballot is not impossible, but I'd settle for Dem Rep WFP.

#24 ::: PurpleGirl ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 02:08 PM:

I have on occasion voted for someone on the WFP line but last evening I read the post by Steve Gilliard. This morning I voted a straight Democratic line. This year it is more important that the Democrats have the numbers in their column.

#25 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 02:21 PM:

#20: I haven't had any respect for NYC mayor Bloomberg since the Republican convention here in 2004, when he oversaw the illegal arrests of hundreds of law-abiding protestors and their overnight confinement in appalling conditions on a pier in the Hudson River.

He makes nice socially-tolerant noises, but when the national Republican party wants him to bust some heads, those heads are duly busted. He's a thug.

#26 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 03:25 PM:

I figure that a third-party like this occasionally endorses a Rep. candidate for two reasons:

1. To show that they have the influence to make even this sort of candidate pay attention and change their vote, and

2. To make the Dems pay attention to their issues, rather than treating them as a junior branch that can be given lip-service or ignored.

As someone who is fairly progressive, I vote for Democrats on the WFP line as a way of reminding Democrats to pay attention to progressive issues, rather than running as far to the center/right as they can to try and woo Republicans. They have my vote, but they can't count on it if they ignore my issues.

Our Constitution more-or-less guarantees a two-party system, but at least NY's minor parties give you a way to send a message to the major parties about issues. I'm far less concerned about sending a message to a minor party.

#27 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 09:41 PM:

I'm in favor of fairly large multi-member districts with single transferrable vote used to fill the seats, even though that would probably result in MA's 10 seats in the House being 8 D, 2 R instead of 10 D. (That might move Stephen Lynch over to the R side of the fence, too.)

I distrust fusion voting (and voted no on MA #2) because I think it puts too much emphasis on party committees and not candidates. PNH's unhappiness with the WFP reinforces my distrust, because it sure sounds like a "party committee" problem.

#28 ::: Laurie ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 11:47 PM:

I hit the same wall a few years ago, Patrick. I agree 100% — and voted 100% Dem today. But I live in Massachusetts, so does it even matter? I voted against the #2 question, also.

It's important to make a stand. Good vs. evil.

#29 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 07:35 AM:

Ursula's logic in #26 is why I've voted on the WFP line in the past. It's perfectly good logic. I'm abandoning them because I don't agree with their judgment.

Incidentally, it appears that Stewart-Cousins beat the loathsome Spano. Good. (Thanks to Kevin Maroney for the Westchester County results link.)

#30 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 01:06 PM:

Rand Wilson was the WFP candidate for Auditor in Massachusetts.

#31 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2006, 07:43 PM:

In particular, Stewart-Cousins beat Spano by a margin approximately equal to the WFP votes Spano received in 2004. So, withdrawing their nomination may indeed have had an effect. (The anti-incumbent, anti-Republican tsunami had, broadly speaking, no other effect on the Republican-ruled New York State Senate, which has not changed hands since the Nixon era.)

#32 ::: Ed Wlody ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2006, 09:01 AM:

I agrre that Spano NORMALLY should never have received the WFP endorsement, based on his legislative history - HOWEVER - he agreed to use his committee chair power to guarantee passage of the most important labor legislation in years - the raise of the minimun wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour. Thats a whopping 40% raise in earning power for 800,000 New Yorkers!
That's the difference between a real political party, and those idealogical purists like the Greens, who would have not endorsed Spano, which would have still left the State Senate in Bruno's hands, 34-28 instead of 35-27. WHOOPEE!!
Next year, instead of you and your friends talking among themselves, why don't you go out to a low income neighborhood, or to a fast food joint, and ask some of the workers how they feel about getting much more money in their pocket to buy needed essentials they could not afford before.
This year, we would have endorsed Spano again, had we been able to get our "Fair Share for Healthcare" bill through the Senate, which would have given full medical coverage to over one million New Yorkers, and perhaps, start a healthcare tidal wave that would sweep through the country. But Bruno wouldn't budge, and we didn't endorse any Republicans. We held up the endorsements until the last minute, because of the pending bill, and wasn't able to endorse Stewart-Cousins in time.
Why don't you speak to Stewart-Cousins herself, who understands our actions, and is very desirous to work with WFP to push our progressive agenda in the Senate. By the way, the WFP is the only ballot status party to officially call for the withdrwal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Ed Wlody
WFP State Committee
61st AD, Staten Island

#33 ::: Ilsa Beaulac ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 01:50 AM:

The New York State Working Families Party is not a true political party. Its members do not control the party; rather, the Working Families Party is actually run by the Working Families Organization, a shadow group set up when the party was formed.

In order to be a member of the Working Families Party, one must register in the party. In order to be a member of the Working Families Organization, one must merely pay dues. Thus, paying non-registrants of the Working Families Organization are part of the Working Families hierarchy that controls the Working Families Party. The State Committee of the Working Families Party has been rendered irrelevant as the State Working Families Organization makes all decisions which are then endorsed by the Working Families Party State Executive Committee. Great confusion exists as to the difference between Party and Organization and party members have been barred from meetings and even conventions while paying non-registrants are admitted and permitted to make policy decisions. The Working Families Organization, not the Working Families Party, screens candidates and makes endorsements.

Dan Cantor and the state party leadership have spent years attempting to prevent legitimate control by party registrants. In Suffolk County, party registrants formed a county committee, the only constituted Working Families committee in the state. Cantor and the party tri-chairs have repeatedly sued to prevent the Suffolk County committee from exercising its Wilson-Pakula rights. The Suffolk County committee has always prevailed. The current suit is before the New York State Court of Appeals.

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