Mark Grisanti Campaigns in Downtown Tantrum

Photo by Jill Greenberg

In a few short years, State Senator Mark Grisanti has accomplished what few of his colleagues manage to do in a lifetime of “public service” – he has made a name for himself.  

Depending on whom you ask, he’s either a hero or an infamous traitor. In a way, that’s something for the senator to be proud of. After all, you don’t become an elected representative to blindly poll your constituents and see which way the wind is blowing.  On the contrary, while you should be responsive and available to constituents, you’re supposed to vote your conscience. It’s at the ballot box where your constituents get to tell you whether they agree. 

Grisanti’s change of heart on same-sex marriage is legendary. For supporters of civil rights, he is a hero for coming around on an issue of fairness and equality. For homophobes, he is a traitor because he had once promised not to support marriage. In the end, Grisanti got a boost, same sex marriage is no longer the huge controversy that it used to be, and he was on the right side of history. 

In the wake of the massacre of 20 first graders in Newtown, CT, Governor Cuomo decided to toughen New York’s laws regarding assault weapons and limiting the number of ammunition rounds that can be kept in a magazine. Some prominent recent shootings – Newtown included – saw gunmen carrying veritable arsenals around to do maximum harm in minimum time.  While Cuomo famously said you don’t need 15 bullets to kill a deer, you also don’t need 11 bullets to kill a 6 year-old

Opponents of the SAFE Act point to mental health treatment as the way to stem mass shootings. Gun control advocates likely believe that to be partly true, but expansion publicly funded mental health treatment and intervention don’t appear anywhere in any Republican manifesto of which I’m aware. So, while elected officials decide what they want to do about mental health services, it’s a good idea to make it as hard as possible for people who shouldn’t have weapons to get them. For this, Grisanti is now practically persona non grata

Before NY SAFE, New York already had among the most restrictive set of gun laws in the country. For instance, you’re not allowed to own a handgun unless you apply for – and receive – a permit to do so. New York still enforced the expired federal assault weapons ban, and NY SAFE strengthened it further.  Rifle magazines are never allowed to contain in excess of 7 rounds of ammunition. Semi-automatic rifles or shotguns with certain features (e.g., pistol grip, flash suppressor, bayonet lug, etc.) are banned, but if you owned one prior to the law’s passage, you  get to keep yours. A person’s weapons may be seized if there is probable cause to believe that the person is about to commit a crime or is mentally unstable. In New York State, the government has discretion in issuing pistol permits or conceal carry permits. In New York City, the rules are more restrictive than that. 

What part of “shall not be infringed” do you not understand? 

Well, the right of the people to bear arms is restricted, not infringed. It is up to the courts to determine whether a restriction is a 2nd Amendment infringement. Furthermore, each state’s laws differ on gun ownership and possession. Usually, conservatives cheer that sort of 10th Amendment state’s rights sort of thing, but perhaps that cheering is absent when the states choose policies with which the right does not agree. What came about? Right-wing freakout temper tantrums. 

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

It’s gotten so bad that it’s been rumored that Grisanti’s camp has had preliminary talks with the Erie County Democratic Committee about an endorsement. 

At last weekend’s Republican roundtable, tea party rabblerouser and former congressional candidate Mike Madigan apparently lit into Grisanti as “untrustworthy”. Grand Island Paladino shadow Rus Thompson (R-Tantrum) has threatened to primary Grisanti. Attorney and perennial candidate Kevin Stocker is already trying to reprise his 2012 loss.  At the GOP confab, Grisanti warned

…that the Republicans may lose their hold on the majority in the State Senate. Perhaps warning against a bruising GOP primary for his seat, he noted that four key Cuomo programs are targeted for early passage if the Dems gained control of the chamber: abortion of babies in the 9th month of pregnancy, taxpayer funded elections, fusion voting limitations, and the DREAM Act – free tuition for illegal aliens. Notably, the fusion changes Cuomo seeks could spell the end of the Conservative Party, the endorsement Grisanti has coveted and been denied. 

Oh, joy and rapture. An end to the perverse electoral fusion system that runs on graft, patronage, and confusion would be perhaps the best and most significant change that Governor Cuomo could ever bring about. The Conservative Party yanked its support from Grisanti over same-sex marriage, yet it has astonishingly continued to endorse other candidates who voted for it. Because “principles”. 

Given the hate and vitriol the small minority of ultra right-wing neofascists hurl at Grisanti, he’s not wrong to seek out a possible Democratic endorsement. These loons have labeled Grisanti a “RINO”, which is, to them, worse than being a Maoist, and they have set out to destroy him. They insist on conservative purity, which will go over great in a primary and lead to a catastrophic loss in the general election, because in November, people are generally in the middle. We’re not all gun-hugging omniphobes. 

Ask political choad Chuck Swanick how well he did running against Grisanti on an anti-gay platform in 2012. 

So it looks like it might fall to Canisius Professor and County Legislator Kevin Hardwick to primary Grisanti. Before he was a politician, my image of Hardwick was that he was not unlike Grisanti – an old-school, middle-of-the-road, northeastern Republican. Like a Bill Weld, conservative when it came to spending and taxes, and socially laissez-faire. But to challenge Grisanti, Hardwick is going to have to tack right, and I don’t know how that’s going to come across or how well it’ll do for him in November. 

Either way, chances are that Langworthy’s Republican committee isn’t going to be endorsing Grisanti, ever. They might endorse Hardwick if he runs. Time will tell if they get involved in a primary at all. Hardwick says he doesn’t like the NY SAFE Act, either, and that will be the centerpiece of any Republican challenge mounted against Grisanti. I think Grisanti has an opportunity to talk about the SAFE Act and why he voted the way he did. It could be as simple as pointing out just how much positive attention Governor Cuomo has given western New York since that vote. In an Albany run by Andrew Cuomo, Sheldon Silver, and Dean Skelos, you won’t be particularly effective by going against them. Just ask Mickey Kearns. (Changing the way Albany is run is a different matter, but no one in government makes a serious go of it for a variety of reasons.) Hardwick could end up in Albany, and then what? Is he going to get the SAFE Act repealed? Of course not. The whole thing is silliness. The entire landscape in that senate district is a massive fit of gun-hugging pique. 

The district that Mark Grisanti represents is a predominately Democratic one. 

So, to my mind, I wish Grisanti well. I want legislators like him in Albany and Washington – legislators who do what they think is right, even when it’s unpopular. I want legislators who take a controversial stand and then take the time and intellectual effort to back it up. We can do a lot worse than Mark Grisanti in Albany

Trolling #POTUSBuffalo and What Government Is

 Some showed class. Some were absent. Others descended into a weird, anachronistic madness. It was a weird day. 

Let’s recall that the only times a member of the Bush Administration deigned to visit our fair city, it was Richard “Dick” Cheney coming in 2003 to collect big money from deep pockets – $1,000 per plate, and Bush in 2004 to a carefully selected crowd to defend the Patriot Act.  Cheney cost the city $10,000 in police overtime and avoided contact with non-wealthy non-Republicans at all cost. I don’t recall what, if anything, the Democrats did or said in reaction to those visits, but suffice it to say that Cheney wasn’t here for anything except raising money for re-election, and Bush only saw the Buffalonians he needed to see. 

Some Republicans showed class. 

 

There was the time the President forgot who the Mayor of Buffalo was.

(Byron Brown’s Democratic opponent capitalized on this moment:)

Then there was everything else.

Obama has come to town twice. Once in 2010, and this Thursday. He came to town specifically to announce a new initiative to guarantee that American kids who want a college education can get a quality one that is affordable. 

In 2010, he came to talk about manufacturing. Everyone was there – Congressman Chris Lee, County Executive Chris Collins included. 

In 2013, he came to talk about education. Chris Collins was nowhere to be seen. I’m told he wasn’t invited. In just one short year, the Collins district has gone from Kathy Hochul having the President’s ear and the district having clout, to an angry Obamaphobe congressman who votes to repeal Obamacare, because his singular issue is to deny families access to quality, affordable health insurance. The 27th Congressional District has a disgrace for a representative – a person who seeks to harm, not help, families. 

When I first started writing this post late Thursday, it was going to be a profanity-laden rant against the Erie County Republican Committee, which released what is probably the dumbest statement, ever. It compared President Obama to, of all people, Jimmy Carter – a punchline from 35 years ago. 

Erie County GOP Trolls

Erie County GOP Trolls

But I decided not to. I realized they were trolling us. To rant and curse would suggest that there was some legitimacy to anything the local Republican Party has to say about anything. There isn’t, so I haven’t. Simply put, anyone who would knowingly compare the economic crises (plural) of the Carter era to 2013 America is either a party hack or someone who wasn’t alive during the Carter era;  Erie County Republican chairman Nick Langworthy is both. 

Evoking Jimmy Carter is a sign of fundamental weakness; the Republicans had to skulk back 35 years to find a Democratic President who had a bad economic time of it. Were they out of Paula Jones jokes? In 2013, We don’t gave gas lines, OPEC isn’t bothering anyone, inflation isn’t 13%, unemployment isn’t in the double-digits, and we don’t have crazy high interest rates on borrowing. All of those things were true in the closing months of Carter’s presidency. Operation Neptune Spear succeeded while  Operation Eagle Claw failed. There is really no comparison to be had. 

Why the Carter troll? Because after him came Reagan, who is godlike among Republicans. They think that Reagan fixed the economy in perpetuity by ushering in supply-side, trickle-down economics.  Both parties had until recently clung to the trickle-down theory as gospel truth, yet in the last 30 years wages have stagnated, the middle class is bearing the brunt of payoffs to the very rich, and the lot of the average American family has been made worse so that people like the Kardashians and Kochs can pay lower taxes. 

Why the Carter troll? Because it’s stupid and they’ve got nothing. Bush’s recession was the worst since World War 2 in terms of overall economic shrinkage. The worst. So, the numbers now seem catastrophic as we try to undo the damage. Facts being facts, WNY didn’t do so well under Reagan, either. Or Bush 1. Or Bush 2. Or Clinton. Why the Carter troll? They point to figures showing that the number of people participating in the labor market has shrunk to 1980 levels. The problem is that no one really knows what’s behind that. The pinkos over at the Wall Street Journal suggest that the labor participation rate was shrinking even during low unemployment of the Bush 2 years, because of the commencement of baby boomer retirement (it tracks nicely with boomer engagement in the market). The cadres at JP Morgan confirm it

So the trolls at ECRC are blaming Obama for the retirement of aging baby boomers. 

But it also reconfirms just how patently anti-individual, anti-consumer, and anti-middle class the Republicans have become.

As the Republicans in Congress vote for the 30th+ time to repeal Obamacare, and as they release obnoxiously false and misleading, trolling press statements bringing up bogeymen from 35 years ago, realize these two fundamental truths: 

1. The Republican opposition to Obamacare is a reflection of their platform, which would deny average Americans the right and ability to obtain quality, affordable health insurance. A repeal of Obamacare brings back lifetime maximums, denials of coverage for pre-existing conditions, the wonder of medical bankruptcy, an inability for people not on Medicaid or Medicare to get affordable insurance unless provided through an employer. 

2. The President was in town to announce an initiative to provide average American kids access to quality, affordable higher education. Since when did the Republicans decide that this was not a civic or social goal?  

Why has the Republican Party declared war on providing average people with things to keep them alive or to educate their kids? I don’t get it. But they’re so dead-set on this that they will beclown themselves with 30 year-old Johnny Carson jokes.  

At one point, Langworthy’s statement read as follows, 

After ushering in an era of economic malaise not seen since Jimmy Carter, President Obama comes to one of the most unemployed cities in the nation to tout more college educations for our young people,” Langworthy said. “We need jobs now – we already have thousands of college graduates unemployed in Erie County.”

“The prescription for job creation has been proven and tested by time: government needs to get out of the way of business,” Langworthy said. “Instead the Administration is creating a raft of job-killing regulations and, with ObamaCare, transforming our nation into a part time workforce.”

Just once, I’d like to see a Republican take the side of the average person instead of big business. Just once, I’d like a Republican to say, “I think the health insurance system we have is too expensive and not geared towards patient needs. I don’t like Obamacare, but I agree that we need to find affordable ways to guarantee that no American is found wanting for medical care they need”. Just once, I’d like a Republican to say, “We need to grow the middle class, and restore the social mobility that has stagnated over the past generation. We need to encourage and help people to get an affordable college education”. These sorts of statements used to be uncontroversial.

“Talking about a college education for everyone in Buffalo is like offering a starving man tap shoes,” Langworthy said. “Thanks for stopping by Mr. President. Erie County needs jobs.”

Usually, when you present a wildly stupid simile like that, you tend to explain what you mean. What does Langworthy mean here? The President said that the unemployment rate for college graduates is 1/3 what it is for people without one. Is Langworthy saying here that Buffalo kids don’t need college? Is he saying that they are just a bunch of willing labor-meat, ready to operate machinery that long ago escaped to Mexico or China?  And what happened to entrepreneurship? Sure, we need jobs, but used to be a Republican would tell someone to go and make their own job. I guess not so much. Labor-meat. 

Given the extremely high rate of school failure in the city – led by a mayor who has Conservative Party backing, you’d think that the Republicans would follow all of this bluster up with a credible Republican candidate for Mayor.

Funny you should think that.

Buffalo has a credible, hard-working Republican candidate. Education is high on his agenda. Yet Langworthy isn’t just passively ignoring, but actively shunning Sergio Rodriguez. Education is the biggest issue of our time, especially in Buffalo; not except.

Sure, we also need strong training and apprenticeship in the trades, but the unions used to do that and we all know what Republicans think of those.

Improving our public schools and guaranteeing every kid access to higher education is a goal that no credible politician would reject, but the Erie County Republican Committee did just that. The statistics show that a college education leads to better jobs and job prospects. Langworthy ridicules this and mocks the notion of social mobility. It’s shameful. 

It’s downright un-American. 

As the President came to town, Langworthy added petulance to the mix: 

 

So, look up at the picture Derek Gee from the Buffalo News tweeted – it’s at the top of this post. People were clearly excited about a sitting President coming to town. Yet, while Langworthy was whining about the local media fawning all over the most powerful man in the world being in town, his colleague from the National Republican Campaign Committee wrote that the President wouldn’t get any “Buffalove”. Which is it? 

Buffalo showed Obama love and excitement. Buffalonians like the idea of making life easier for the middle class. We like the notion that people should have access to a quality and affordable college education, just like we think people should have access to quality, affordable health insurance. We’re that old-fashioned bit of flyover country that thinks people deserve a fair shot in exchange for hard work – whether it be through brains or brawn. The problems we face as a region are decades in the making, and most of them have bipartisan or nonpartisan causes. 

I haven’t been a Republican since 2003 – this sort of nonsense is why. If you’re an Erie County Republican, thank Ray Walter for being a respectful guy with class. If you’re an Erie County Republican, tell Nick Langworthy that he embarrassed you today. If you’re a resident of NY-27, now you know that you’re effectively unrepresented in Congress.