Conservative Fusion Capo On Voting

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As the newly constituted New York State legislature takes up a package of proposed voting and voter registration reforms – including same-day registration and early voting – let us consider for a moment what Mike Long, the state Conservative fusion Party capo has to say about all of these hippies making it easier for citizens to vote. 

“I think voting is a privilege and it should remain in fact that you understand it is a privilege. It shouldn’t be made simpler,” Long said.

Which sort of explains why the right has worked so hard to disenfranchise targeted groups of people who would otherwise be statistically predisposed to vote on the left. 

We should just change its name to the Voter Privilege Act and get it over with. 

Electoral Fusion is Corruption: Livingston County Edition

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I believe that New York’s system of electoral fusion is a more pervasive scandal than the alliterative Buffalo Billion bid-rigging. Electoral fusion is worse for New York and the root of its corrupt political culture. 

In a nutshell, electoral fusion is the system whereby New York State—and only a small handful of other states—permits political parties to endorse and run non-members. It’s how Republican candidates show up on the “Conservative” and “Independent” and “Reform” party lines on a November ballot. It’s how Democratic candidates show up on the “Working Families” and “Womens Equality” party lines. Even more horrifically cynical is party raiding, most frequently seen by Republicans hijacking the Green Party line by running handpicked dummy candidates to split the left-of-center vote and weaken Democrats. 

A decade ago, the fusion game was played on political pamphleteer Joe Illuzzi’s page, where the “Independence” party endorsement was largely dependent on whether a candidate bought an ad. The payoff here is that these tiny parties, which would otherwise have zero clout whatsoever, get to wield ridiculous influence over our electoral process that is totally out of proportion to their actual numbers. Party stalwarts get jobs. If it sounds like racketeering, that’s because it is. The only innocent minor party is the Greens, who do not cross-endorse, and are victims of repeated Republican attempts at theft of their line

If New York abolished fusion, a massive amount of casual corruption would immediately cease. This wouldn’t mean minor parties couldn’t exist—it would just mean that they actually would have to run candidates, recruit members, and compete in elections. Given the sad state of New York politics, I’d bet a third party could gain quite a following and become influential because of its ideas, rather than its craven dealmaking. 

But today is not that day, as an Assembly race out in the Rochester area is so glaringly revealing. 

There is a nasty Republican primary race now for the 133rd Assembly race, and sparks are flying. This is the seat that was vacated by the late tea party/talk radio Assemblyman Bill Nojay, who took his own life on the morning he was to go to trial for federal criminal fraud charges. Joe Errigo, who had served in the Assembly for 10 years under previous lines that largely overlapped, agreed to come out of retirement to serve again. He managed to win in the Trump deluge, despite showing obvious signs of Paladino Syndrome, like having a racist meltdown on live radio, insisting Obama was telling blacks to murder whites. Supposedly, the understanding was that Errigo would just be a seat warmer until the GOP could get its act together for this year’s election, but he stunned everyone by announcing he was running for reelection. The man is not well: sheriff’s deputies had to bring him home after he got lost a few weeks ago.

Enter Marjorie Byrnes, who decided to primary Errigo. She is a former Democrat and former Rochester City judge, but now she lives in Caledonia with a man named John Pauers, who just happened to be a vice chair of the Livingston County Republican Committee. Pauers engineered the Livingston County Republican endorsement for Byrnes, after which (coincidentally, Pauers says, but maybe not) the long-time GOP chair resigned. This leaves Pauers as acting GOP chair in Livingston County.

Livingston was the only county that designated Byrnes. The Monroe and Steuben GOP committees stuck with Errigo.

The explosive news is that a Republican Assembly candidate paid Livingston County Conservative Party chair, the Reverend Jason McGuire, an outrageous $20,000 for “consulting” just before the Conservative County Committee gave Byrnes its designation as candidate in the race. McGuire—who has used his pulpit for anti-LGBTQ political purposes—has since returned the money, but you’re unlikely to find a more egregious or obvious example of the electoral fusion culture of bribery and scandal. This sort of payoff isn’t an unintended consequence of fusion, it’s become baked into the system itself. Here’s what a Rochester political consultant said about that amount of money

“The $20,000 fee is beyond comprehension for a race for the Assembly. We are talking about a primary not a hugely contested general election… and even then it is more than twice what it should be,” said Arnie Rothschild, a Rochester Political Consultant who previously worked on Mayor Lovely Warren’s Campaign. “I have been in 150 or so elections around the state and would never ask for that kind of money.”

So, that $20,000 “consulting” gig coincided with this: 

Marjorie Byrnes, who decided to primary Errigo the unwell, is a former Rochester City judge (she was a Democrat then). Byrnes received the endorsement of the state Conservative fusion party, and this happened

“I am so incredibly proud that the state committee party chose to endorse me as their candidate,” Byrnes said. “I am sad that some politicians want to work against the conservative party candidate and their principles for political motivation.”

Prior to the vote, McGuire had written a letter to the state Conservative Executive Party Committee, outlining the reasons why the Livingston County Conservative Party was supporting Byrnes. In the letter, McGuire also disclosed to state committee members that he had assumed campaign manager responsibilities for Byrnes.

“In full disclosure, you should know that I am assuming campaign manager responsibilities for the Byrnes campaign,” McGuire wrote in the letter.

But the letter did not disclose that he had accepted $20,000 from Byrnes to do the job. At the same time, Byrnes filed and disclosed her campaign expenditures with the state, as required by law. Her filing included full disclosure that she had paid $20,000 to McGuire for his services coordinating her campaign.

The obviousness of the pay-for-play was pretty glaring, even for right-wingers:

The [State Conservative fusion] committee ultimately decided to authorize Byrne as its candidate for the 133rd Assembly District, but some members did not realize McGuire was receiving compensation and felt misled. State Party Chairman Mike Long said in the aftermath he asked for the regional vice chair’s resignation.

So, McGuire returned the money, explaining

“I honestly felt that when I used the phrase ‘in full disclosure’ that my point was clear,” McGuire told The Livingston County News via email. The response was received after this week’s print edition had gone to press.

“The phrase ‘in full disclosure’ means that there is something that needs to be disclosed. There would be no need to disclose that I was voluntarily supporting a candidate. However, not everyone at the meeting understood my intention, and I now realize that my statement could have been more express,” McGuire said.

When the committee learned that McGuire was a paid member of the Byrnes campaign, McGuire returned the $20,000 payment to Byrnes and sent a letter on July 23 to Michael Long, chairperson of the state Conservative Party, notifying him that he had returned the money to Byrnes and offering to resign his seat on the executive committee.

The Errigo campaign pounced, accusing McGuire and Byrnes of corruption

“This is the worst of what New York state politics is all about and it should not happen,” campaign spokesperson Arnie Rothschild said. “The fact that Mr. McGuire now says he has returned the money is an indication he recognizes this was wrong. However, if you rob a bank and return the money two days later, you’re still guilty of robbing a bank.”

Rothschild questioned why McGuire did not recuse himself from the state committee’s conversation about the race. He also said $20,000 is an unusually large amount to pay for an Assembly race and, to his knowledge, McGuire has not served as a campaign consultant before this year.

The Livingston County chair said he has in fact been involved in numerous campaigns although he typically works for free. The Errigo Campaign said it is reviewing the incident with attorneys and has not filed any formal complaints, although they believe it is potentially a felony.

It’s not just the “worst” of what New York politics is about; it is emblematic of the fundamental corruption of our fusion system. Fusion and these sorts of commonplace payoffs—usually done more subtly than this McGuire/Byrnes scenario—is at the heart of our system and the root of New York’s culture of corruption. It is pervasive and constant. It happens here in Erie County every election cycle. It is everywhere. After all, what good is it running a minor fusion party with a handful of members if you’re not getting paid? 

NYS Conservative Fusion Party Discreetly Drops Carl

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Later this month, the Conservative Fusion Party – a club for people who care deeply about guns, abortion, defeating the homosexual agenda, and patronage jobs – will be holding its annual statewide fundraiser. Here is the mail piece they sent out in mid-December: 

On December 28, however, they sent out a mass email with one notable omission from its list of promised conference speakers. 

I wonder what happened between December 16 and 28 for the Conservatives to drop Buffalo’s own bestiality and racism enthusiast Carl Paladino? It’s not like the Conservative Fusion Party is in any way distinguished, reasonable, or professional

Local attendees of this sham “party” congress include former Attorney General Dennis Vacco, incoming State Senator Chris Jacobs, and Congressman Chris Collins. 

Incidentally, on Tuesday the Republican congressional majority voted overwhelmingly, and with no warning, to gut Congressional ethics oversight as literally its first act of the Trump era. Public outcry led them quickly to abandon that plan, but we still have no idea how Chris Collins voted at that secret conference. Is he for or against aggressive, independent ethics oversight of Congress? 

Fusion Voting Jamboree

The 5th Legislative District seat is so hot that people are tripping over themselves to obtain an infinitesimal electoral advantage through ballot shenanigans, including the outrageous and corrupt practice of electoral fusion. “Opportunity to Ballot” petitions were filed for two party lines in that district race. Republican county legislature staffer and Lancaster GOP Committee Chair Robert J. Matthews filed an OTB last Thursday for the Working Families Party – a fusion party not known for its close ties to the anti-labor Republicans. This is the same district where Nick Langworthy filed Green Party petitions for Lynnette Batt.

That’s some abrupt Republican love-fest with left/labor political parties!

An OTB for the Green Party and Working Families Party was also filed in LD-8, currently held by Republican Ted Morton.

All of this is a cheap farce. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Dem filing a Green or WFP petition, or a Republican filing a Green or WFP OTB petition. All of it is sleazy, all of it treats the electorate like cattle, and the entire ballot access and fusion systems in New York.

Somewhere recently, I stumbled upon these digital leavings from an obsessed fan:

Alan Bedenko, a local Democratic blogger and self-styled paragon of political virtue, has complained bitterly about these Republican efforts, but remains mysteriously silent on the activities of his pals Poloncarz and Zellner.   Maybe Bendeko wants to safeguard his law firm’s business with Erie County by not biting the hand that feeds?   Or is it Poloncarz appointments he so covets?  At least Langworthy isn’t attempting to steal the Green line.  If he was, he would have circulated an OTB petition for his candidate, Guy Marlette.   Looks like Langworthy didn’t start the war, he’s just playing defense.

I’m not sure that this article was “complaining bitterly” rather than simply pointing out how ridiculous the system has become. My mysterious silence had to do with the simple fact that Langworthy had submitted the petitions in the past tense, while “my pals Poloncarz and Zellner” had done no such thing by that point. So, it would seem to me to be premature to condemn something that hadn’t yet happened; after all, it doesn’t matter for whom you circulate petitions if you don’t file them.

I certainly don’t “covet” any further appointments – my appointment to serve as an unpaid volunteer on the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library board wasn’t something I sought, and I have already disclosed my firm’s representation of Erie County on multiple occasions. So, I suppose I’d respond by noting that probably no one in western New York has written more articles critical of New York’s fusion voting system than I. Indeed, ever since the days of Joe Illuzzi’s politico-financial love affair with one-time Independence Party chair Tony Orsini, I have written countless articles about how fusion and cross-endorsements count among the very roots of corruption in New York politics – unless you abolish fusion, no effort to clean up politics can be successful.

I think that the Green Party’s ballot should be unmolested by Democrats and Republicans alike – I find it unseemly that a Green OTB was filed for any candidate of any other party. As for the others – Working Families, Independence, Conservative – all of them should be forced either to run their own candidates or fold. The Independence fusion Party is a patronage pit designed to trick voters who intended to register as what New York calls “unenrolled”. It’s no accident that, at various times its line has been within the sole control of Steve Pigeon. The Conservative fusion Party also has an unholy alliance with Pigeon from time to time, especially insofar as it helps serve the dual purpose of (a) helping Republicans; and (b) sabotaging the Democratic committee.

As a partisan Democrat (I’m also a committeeman – full disclosure!) I deplore and denounce the use of fusion voting and minor parties, regardless of who’s doing it. All of it is designed to cheapen and degrade our system.

Join the Conservative Fusion Party’s “Police Brutality PAC”

Carl Paladino is shilling for the NYS Conservative Party, forwarding the email shown below (SFW): 

That’s pretty cool! Register with the Conservative Party, because the cops put a black man in an illegal-since-1993 chokehold and committed homicide! I mean, the NYPD is going to re-train officers as a result of this tragedy, but w/e! I mean, they killed this man and waited a full 7 minutes before trying CPR! He’s black, so he doesn’t count, right, Carl? Right, Conservative Party?  As Paladino so aptly put it in an earlier email

 

DEMOCRATS: STOP ASKING FOR THIS PARTY’S ENDORSEMENT.

IF YOU SEEK THE ENDORSEMENT OF THE CONSERVATIVE FUSION PARTY, YOU ARE EXPLICITLY ENDORSING SHIT LIKE THIS.

Ballot Access & Fusion: Keeping New York Corrupt

It’s petition day throughout New York State, and we’ll learn soon enough that Governor Cuomo will have a primary challenge from the left, and that locally, the Democratic race for the 63rd Senate District (Tim Kennedy, incumbent) is going to be especially fun, as will the Republican challenge to Mark Grisanti, as perennial party-switching candidate Rus Thompson clumsily attempts to manipulate the corrupt fusion system to try and oust the sane guy. 

But it’s not only electoral fusion that’s corrupt and awful, so is the petition process itself. It’s hypercomplicated and deliberately designed to be a minefield for the unwary. It’s not only time to abolish the electoral fusion system and shut down the Wilson Pakulas and backroom deals, but also to simplify the ballot access system to make it easier for candidates to run. The rules for petitioning should be simplified and written in plain English, and there should be an alternative whereby a candidate simply pays a fee (set on a sliding scale, depending on the scope of the office).  Hey, if the state needs another source of revenue, there you go. 

As it stands now, our petitioning process should rightly be named the Election Law Attorney Full Employment Act

As for SD-60, where Grisanti will possibly face off with Rus Thompson, here’s the entire campaign in a nutshell.  I don’t know about you, but I’d choose the calm, professional man in the suit over the wildman in a sweatshirt. 

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

Albany’s Culture of Corruption & Fusion

In your real day-to-day life, does last week’s Zephyr Teachout / Working Families Party brinksmanship with Governor Cuomo matter to you? 

Mr. Langworthy hits on a key point of New York’s fundamentally corrupt electoral fusion system – all of this chasing of third, fourth, and fifth lines involves extortion and bribery.  All of it. Every single one.

The system is dirty because the system is set up to be dirty. 

You want to be angry about Cuomo dismantling the Moreland Commission on public corruption literally overnight to cut a budget deal? I’m angry, too, and hope the US Attorney in Manhattan truly does pursue what scraps he’s been able to gather. Asking Albany to clean house reminds me of Jesse Pinkman, the young henchman from Breaking Bad, attending group drug counseling so he can sell meth to other attendees. 

 But the system itself can’t be reformed as long as fusion is permitted to be legal. You can bet that just about very time a politico chases a minor party fusion line, there’s some degree of corruption afoot. The “Independence Party” is the worst, but they’re all cut from the same cloth. 

It really doesn’t get any simpler. If you want to end Albany’s culture of corruption, you have to end Albany’s culture of corruption. Just. Do. It. 

If you’re like I am, do you draw any comfort or satisfaction from the fact that Cuomo is equally reviled on both the hard left and hard right? 

Electoral Fusion And Terribleness

If you ever wanted to know how political staffers get their jobs, it’s by doing a lot of boring, annoying, time-consuming grunt work that no one else wants to do. They have to be loyal and trustworthy, and they have to be able to accomplish with a straight face the tasks required of their job. 

That’s not rocket science, that’s not automatically “bad”, it’s how it’s been done since time immemorial, everywhere, and isn’t going to change anytime soon. 

But New York State is unique the way in which it permits its politics to be manipulated, and it’s unique in how corrupt and pervasive it’s become. We are one of a very small handful of states that permit electoral fusion, which enables minor parties to endorse candidates who aren’t party members. We have a “Conservative Party” that has a conservative platform to which it adheres when convenient, and we have the Tom Golisano-founded “Independence Party”, which is never independent and exists largely to confuse people who want to register as small-i independents, and don’t realize that New York calls them “unenrolled”.  We also have the Working Families Party, which is very tight with both public and private sector unions, and is candid about its activist role. Only the Green Party eschews the fusion game. 

I have written about fusion for many years, and advocated for its abolition. It most recently came up during the State Senate’s debate of the same sex marriage law, when Conservative Party “leaders” were openly threatening Senator Mark Grisanti not to vote in favor of it. It’s notable that this horrible “party” is now endorsing anti-same-sex-marriage, nominal Democrat and former County Legislator Chuck Swanick to run against Grisanti. 

After the County budget crisis of the last decade, I thought it’d be impossible for Swanick to ever dare to re-gain elected office again. Or any job that didn’t end with the suffix “the clown”. At the time, Swanick had switched to the Republican Party in order to be elected legislature chairman, and even after that, he was at the forefront of a fiscal disaster, and had a hand in assisting Butch Holt to give a county contract to his brother’s Texas-based basketball camp, and a $3 million no-bid contract to a glorified answering service called “community corrections” – a huge attempted scam.

The Republican primary race in the newly constructed NY-27 district has revealed some dramatic cleaves in the WNY Republican firmament.  You have rich, country-club Republican against middle-class, war vet Republican. You have suburban vs. rural. You have conservative vs. crony capitalism. Above all, you have the story of David Bellavia and the Erie County GOP. In 2008, Bellavia agreed to step aside in favor of Chris Lee in the NY-26 race in a deal struck with current ECGOP chairman Nick Langworthy.  The deal was, Bellavia lets Lee have the seat, and when Lee vacates the seat, it would be Bellavia’s turn.

But it didn’t turn out that way, and Bellavia was not just snubbed in 2010 when Lee resigned in a Craigslist sex scandal – he was cajoled and threatened. In early 2011, Bellavia was cornered in a back room of an Elmwood Avenue cafe by Chris Collins, Carl Paladino, and Paladino’s lieutenant, Rus Thompson.  The trio played good cop/bad cop, attempting to clear the way for Collins’ neighbor, Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, to get the NY-26 nod. They alternately threatened to reveal embarrassing information about Bellavia’s finances, then offering him an endorsement for an Assembly seat of his own.  Corwin went on to lose dramatically to Kathy Hochul in what turned out to be almost a frame-by-frame foreshadowing of the November 2011 County Executive race. 

To this day, the Erie County Republican Committee has refused to endorse Bellavia for any office, and has reneged completely on the deal it made to clear Chris Lee’s way to Washington. 

With redistricting, the lines have changed and Corwin isn’t trying again. Instead, in keeping with the apparent ECGOP policy that a chief qualification for Congress is that you reside on Cobblestone Drive in Clarence, the recently defeated hobbyist-politician Chris Collins has stepped out to yet again deny Bellavia a shot at a congressional race. Bellavia, however, is not bowing out. He has garnered the support of the xenophobic-but-wealthy Jack Davis, and the endorsement of the Republican committees of every one of the so-called “GLOW” (Genesee, Livingston, Orleans, Wyoming) counties. Bellavia’s campaign has been assisted by former Paladino campaign manager Michael Caputo, and while his fundraising gap vs. Collins is wide, so is the enthusiasm gap – Collins hasn’t made many friends, and is finding that he’s a tough sell outside of Erie and Niagara Counties, within the Buffalo media market that treated him with kid gloves. 

There is some overlap between NY-27 and the State Senate district occupied by Michael Ranzenhofer. Although Ranzenhofer claims to be neutral in the Collins – Bellavia battle, he is a product of the Erie County Republican machine, and close friends with Collins ally and Washington strategist Michael Hook. A few weeks ago, one of Ranzenhofer’s Wyoming County-based staffers, Michelle McCullough, was named to Bellavia’s campaign’s steering committee. After all, she is a Wyoming County committeewoman and at worst, she was going along with her committee’s endorsement. She was quickly fired. The Batavian has a story that confirms the political rationale and scheming that led to McCullough’s termination. Text messages confirm that Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy criticized McCullough for her endorsement of Bellavia, and one of her colleagues warned her that “Hook called Ranz” just days before her termination. 

Ranzenhofer continues to insist that he is neutral in the NY-27 primary race. 

Yet that doesn’t explain another point that the Batavian revealed. In New York, one of the easiest ways you can circulate nominating petitions for a political party with which you’re not registered is to become a Notary Public. The Batavian story reveals that at least six of Ranzenhofer’s staffers are licensed notaries, and not coincidentally went out and collected petition signatures for Chris Collins for the Conservative Party line; everybody including Michelle McCullough, the staffer fired for her support of David Bellavia. All of the signatures were collected in eastern Erie County, following an instruction to ignore GLOW counties. 

In addition to the apparent lack of supposed neutrality in the Ranzenhofer office regarding the NY-27 race, sources confirm that Erie County Republican elections commissioner Ralph Mohr delivered the Conservative Party petitions to the Ranzenhofer staffers. They didn’t collect signatures on state time, but were asked to use their own “comp” time to do so – time that was theirs and that they had earned as time off. 

It shows that the Erie County Republican Committee is not just not neutral in this race, but that it is actively assisting Chris Collins’ effort, and working in concert – in effect controlling – the concomitant effort to get Collins on the Conservative Party ballot. 

This is nothing new, and it’s not unique to the Republican or Conservative Parties. The Erie County Independence Party has lost its right and ability to endorse candidates to the state party apparatus. This is because ECDC Chairman Len Lenihan had in 2006 attempted an outright takeover of the IP by urging Democrats to become active IP members. This resulted in the local committee endorsing one candidate, and the state committee endorsing another – a conflict that was resolved in the state’s favor through recent litigation. State committee chair Frank MacKay has taken to endorsing Republicans in recent local races

You’ll note that not one piece of information written above has anything whatsoever to do with good policy, platform positions, or anything else commonly associated with what government and politics are supposed to be about.  This is all about influence and power, and in the case of the minor fusion parties, their sole mission in life is to offer and execute Wilson Pakulas in exchange for influence, power, and – above all – jobs

One of the oldest and most-repeated excuses for why we allow fusion voting in New York has to do with the mythological straight-line voter. Presumably, such a voter who is, e.g., a registered and loyal Democrat would never, ever color in a Republican ballot oval, even if the choice was for an objectively superior candidate. (Think Antoine Thompson vs. Mark Grisanti). So, the minor party lines give that type of voter the cover to vote for the right person and not fill in the “R” line. 

I’m sure these people exist, but I’m not convinced that the existence of the “C” and “I” or “WFP” lines somehow magically give them the moral cover to do something they’d otherwise never do. I’d love to see some polling on that; I think it’s utter speculation and, if it exists, affects a very small number of voters. 

It wasn’t too long ago that the Erie County Independence Party was run by a Springville-based barber who was quite brazenly transactional. The current Erie County Conservative Party leader is well-regarded in political circles, and enjoys wide, multi-partisan friendship and support due to his friendly weekend kaffeeklatsches at Daisie’s in  Lackawanna. But during at least one local supervisor’s race last year, it was revealed that the Conservative Party endorsement could be inextricably linked with Mr. Lorigo’s own business interests, as it was alleged that he had withheld an endorsement on pretextual moral grounds, but in reality because the town board had voted against a zoning change that would have directly benefited Lorigo’s business interests, and he was punishing the sitting supervisor for not asserting more influence over the process. 

State Conservative Party chair Mike Long and Ralph Lorigo are persuasive when they threaten Mark Grisanti, who defeated Antoine Thompson by only about 500 votes, and 4,300 of his votes came on the Conservative line. It comes down not to doing the right thing, but counting votes.  But really,  the Conservative Party has no business wielding the political power it does. In 2010, about 4.6 million New Yorkers voted – only about 232,000 of them on the Conservative line; that’s 5% of people who cast ballots. The enrollment in Erie County breaks down this way: Democrats: 286,112; Republicans: 153,179; Conservative Party; 11,811; Independence Party: 24,962; Working Families Party: 2,665; Green Party: 1,225; Libertarian Party: 242; unenrolled: 90,908.  So, we have 571,104 registered Erie County voters, only 2% of whom are members of the Conservative Party, and only 4% of whom are registered as “Independent”. Yet these two little nothing parties with a negligible number of members have practical control over who gets elected.

The minor parties’ political influence exponentially outweighs their membership or ballot results. I’m tired of progress and legislation being held up by little men with little minds whose political parties are only mildly more legitimate and popular than the “Rent is Too Damn High” Party. Why was Tony Orsini taken seriously as a political player? Who is Ralph Lorigo to demand fealty from candidates? How did a panoply of Independence Party hacks get jobs at the Erie County Legislature in 2010? Are Lorigo’s decisions on endorsements based on Conservative Party principles, or on unprincipled self-interest?

To put it bluntly, electoral fusion is one of the chief reasons why we in western New York can’t have nice things. It ensures that our politics are uniquely and overwhelmingly transactional, to the benefit of the connected and the detriment of the average citizen. Somewhat ironically, fusion is the reason why fusion won’t be abolished anytime soon. Too many pols have too intense a reliance on a process that theoretically relies on inflexible low-information voters to succeed. The elected who campaigns too strenuously to unsuccessfully end fusion will find himself returned to the dreaded private sector, with its crappy health insurance and absence of fat, tax-free pensions. 

End electoral fusion, and New York will have enacted a very significant reform that will, in turn, help to hasten other policies and reforms that will help move the state forward. Next time you ask why any local pol chooses not to show leadership on some matter of controversy, refer back to transactional politics and fusion. 

Grisanti to Receive Endorsement of Other Horrible Transactional Fusion Party

At 1:30 pm today, a press conference will be held in Buffalo to announce that the Independence Party, which is neither independent nor really any sort of political party with any firm ideology or platform aside from the personal ambitions of its leadership, will endorse Mark Grisanti for re-election. 

This comes quickly on the heels of the recent announcement that the Conservative Party, which is hardly conservative nor really any sort of political party with a firm and consistent set of policy positions except for a generalized abhorrence of gays, modern society, and taxes, will attempt to throw WNY under a massive bendy bus by endorsing reprehensible homophobic retread Chuck Swanick – star of the mid-last-decade county financial meltdown – in a deal cut with former Pedro Espada patronage hire Steve Pigeon.  With Espada’s indictment, Pigeon finds himself needing something more to do than just ally himself with Albany-based cults.  

Also, Swanick received the endorsement of the reactionary homophobic bigots at the improperly named “National Organization for Marriage“. 

If you want to stop how pitifully transactional our local politics have become, and begin cleaning things up; if you want to promote good policy and less patronage-laden dealmaking, abolish electoral fusion in New York State. 

Health Insurance Propagandist: Stick to the Status Quo

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The Buffalo News, which has taken something of a sharp turn to the right, published an “Another Voice” column penned by a health insurance broker. The conflict negates the opinion, but it deserves a fisking because it is so fundamentally dishonest. 

Literally every industrialized democracy in the world has figured out the question of how to ensure that its populace is not bankrupted by medical bills. Some, like Switzerland, rely on a tightly regulated private market where every resident is mandated to purchase a basic level of comprehensive health insurance. Some, like Germany, offer hybrid systems of state-regulated and private insurance. Some, like Britain, offer a comprehensive national single-payer system with a separate private tier of care available to those who can afford it. Some countries have a system run by the central government while others rely on state, cantonal, or provincial management. 

There exist literally myriad ways to solve the problem of paying for everyone’s health care, but the United States has failed and refused to do so, to everyone’s harm. We spend more per capita on private health insurance and derive generally worse outcomes than most of our international peer nations. 

It doesn’t matter what you call it – socialism, democratic socialism, social democracy – the idea is that everyone contributes, and everyone benefits. 

Dan Judge, the president of the “Greater Niagara Frontier Chapter of the New York Association of Health Underwriters” is certain, however, that it would be foolish to kill his job, and he’s got the scare tactics to prove it. 

As an an independent insurance broker in the field of health and employee benefits, I, along with a vast number of my insurance industry colleagues, truly understand and empathize with many of the opinions voiced lately regarding the confusion and frustration in our U.S. health care system. But that doesn’t mean we should throw it out for a single-payer, government-run system.

It is not just “confusion and frustration”, not when even the slight gains won through the Affordable Care Act, like coverage for pre-existing conditions, remains at constant peril from Republican hard-liners. While Washington lobbyists and their paid-for Congresspeople fritter away people’s coverage and health security, we have insurance underwriters desperate to explain that this idiotic, Frankenstein system of ours is worth preserving. 

Single-payer, as proposed under the New York Health Act, would completely disrupt, if not dismantle, our health care system. Mandating that all New Yorkers would be forced to give up their current coverage and be lumped into one government-controlled system would not only be an administrative nightmare, it would also have a negative impact on access to care.

Disruption of a stupid, wasteful, redundant system of multiple private bureaucracies is exactly the point. Our health insurance system is broken. Single-payer is but one option available to remedy that. If insurance brokers are scared of that, then they should propose some other solution. Scaring us with PR-tested phrases like “administrative nightmare” won’t work because any American saddled with some garbage private health insurance has at least one horror story about what a waste of time, money, and effort it is. 

Single-payer is just that – one insurer. Of course, “single-payer” could take the form of a statewide contract through RFP for handling of every medical claim by one company. It doesn’t necessarily have to be administered by a state agency. But yes, instead of paying thousands of dollars to a private insurer of some sort, it would all go to one place, and that one place would pay the bills for doctors, hospitals, testing, therapy, etc. Doctors would have only one place to go to for billing issues, rather than a cafeteria list of various and disparate private entities and coverages, each one posing a bureaucratic nightmare for physicians and staff who just want to get on with the task of treating and helping patients. 

If we look to Canada (the closest single system we have to compare to) we see what life is really like under single-payer. The libertarian Fraser Institute of Canada publishes a “Waiting Your Turn” report every year, highlighting dramatic increases in wait times for specialists and procedures. Patients wait several months just to start cancer treatment. This has an increasing number of people choosing “medical tourism,” traveling to places like New York, rather than waiting in Canada for care.

You cannot stan for a system that prioritizes insurance claim bureaucracy over patient care and then complain, ‘but muh Saskatchewan wait times’. 

Generally, taking one’s cues from a “libertarian” institute is a fool’s errand. If you don’t like Canada’s system, here’s an idea: take what works, omit what doesn’t, and improve upon it. People from Canada do not, generally speaking, travel to the United States to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars out-of-pocket to receive treatment that comes free back home. For instance, if you navigate to Kaleida’s website, it has a page dedicated to Canadian patients, inviting them to “fast-track” their procedure in Buffalo. The highlighted services are cardiovascular, orthopedics, weight loss (bariatric), general surgery & oncological surgery, neuroscience, and diagnostic services. Although “oncological surgery” is in the pull-down menu, when you click through, it offers hernia repair, laparoscopic surgery, orthopedic surgery, weight loss, gynecological, and urological surgeries. Nothing specific there about cancer. 

Not that Canada’s system is perfect; it’s not. No system is perfect, and the quest for perfection is a red herring when even a modest improvement will do. The benefit, if there exists one, of waiting this long to figure this out, is that we have so many different models from which to choose that have been implemented abroad in real life for real care for real people. Pick what works and improve upon what doesn’t. Don’t stick to the status quo – do something better. 

The NHS, by contrast, has a two-week legislated maximum wait-time for urgent cancer referrals. The biggest problems facing government-run systems is cut-backs and austerity, not the system itself. 

Much of the savings proponents of the New York Health Act point to are dependent upon major cuts to hospitals and doctors. In Erie County, nine out of the 10 hospitals would see funding decline dramatically under single-payer. Your doctor may decide the lower pay and higher taxes aren’t worth practicing in New York anymore. This will also make it harder to recruit new doctors, leading to provider shortages.

On the other hand, doctors could lay off the staff they have on hand who exist solely to navigate the various and sundry insurance schemes that do or do not pay for care, as the case may be, thus keeping more money for themselves. It’s actually a quite cynical and disgusting charge to lay upon physicians, as if money was their motivator, rather than helping sick patients. Do you think a doctor would be happier if he would get paid regardless of whom he saw as a patient, and regardless of whether there was a proper referral, etc., or if he had to maintain the status quo and deal with referrals and co-pays and collections and insurance appeals? Imagine if a doctor would never again have to turn away a patient based on ability to pay. Imagine if a patient could get the care he needed regardless of ability to pay, and not bankrupt his family in the long run. 

And then there are the massive tax increases. Analysis conducted by the RAND Corp. last year estimated that taxes would need to increase by $139 billion in the first year alone under a single-payer system; including long-term care increases this amount by an additional $43 billion in taxes. The NYHA would create the largest state tax increase in U.S. history, ballooning to more than $250 billion a year when fully implemented.

How does that compare with the money New Yorkers now pay to their private health insurers, and in co-pays and deductibles? Every single private health insurance scheme goes to pay for each company’s massive payment-related and medical approval bureaucracy. Eliminate that redundancy.

That same RAND corporation study that Judge cites actually shows a net savings to New Yorkers if this scheme is implemented. If we kept the status quo, New Yorkers would pay $311 billion for health insurance. Taxes would increase and replace that. We would save 6.5% or $20.4 billion in reduced administrative costs, 5.2% or $16.3 billion in reduced physician and hospital administrative costs, $18.6 billion or 6% in reduced prices for drugs and medical devices, totalling a savings of $55.1 billion. The increases in cost would be $17.1 billion or 5.5% to insure everyone, improved fees for providers of $8.8 billion or 2.8%, and $18 billion or 5.8% for enhancements to long-term care coverage.  New Yorkers would save $11.4 billion. 

It is literally cheaper to cover everyone. 

The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office recently determined that a national single-payer system “would significantly increase government spending and require substantial additional government resources.” Just like the RAND Corp., they also noted the possibility of less access to care while facing an increased demand that could not be met.

Yes, because money you now pay in deductibles, co-pays, and health insurance would instead go to one other place, cost less, and provide more. Call it “taxes” to scare people, but I’d rather pay a smaller sum in taxes than I do for health insurance and annual deductibles in order to have complete, comprehensive medical, vision, dental, and long term care coverage. It is a no-brainer for anyone who has any experience with the American system. 

The majority of New Yorkers – 95% – are currently covered by health insurance. (In Western New York, that number rises to 96.8%.) The state should be looking at ways to help cover the remaining 5% instead of ways to create more frustration and confusion under a single-payer health care system.

tl;dr: it’s not so much important that people have adequate health insurance, so long as the health insurance brokers can pay for another Cadillac. 

If people want to have a debate on the merits as to what sort of medical coverage scheme best works for New York or the United States, that’s fine. The status quo, both pre- and post-Obamacare is inadequate and results in literal deaths from people without adequate coverage, money to pay deductibles, and avoidance of medical care due to financial anxiety. 

Americans deserve better. Want to make America great again? Cover every American. This is how it should be: 

and

Our individualistic, libertarian paradise, however, is very different.

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