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.
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.