By Nick DAngelo
On June 25, 2011, New York became the largest state to date to legalize same-sex marriage.
With Democrats holding the State Assembly and the governorship, while Republicans have a razor-thin edge in the State Senate, the feat was a legislative balancing act.
The assembly vote was not interesting; Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver has a near 2-1 advantage there. But the Senate, which passed the measure 33-29, is a fascinating case study to any political science enthusiast.
Without some Republican support, the measure would not have passed at all. Eventually four members of the party caucus would vote for the legislation despite warnings from the New York State Conservative Party that they would not endorse any candidate who did so.
The Conservative Party is a necessity for any Republican seeking office in New York. Very few elections are won without the third party line, which is one of the strongest in our state. But will the Party threat hold moving into 2012?
So far, only two of the four senators face serious trouble come November: Senators Mark Grisanti of Buffalo and James Alesi of Perinton. The other two, veterans of the body and more defiant in their opposition, have become celebrities of a movement for a calmer tone towards far-right social stances.
Senator Roy McDonald of our neighboring Troy refused to make his stance a secret in the days leading up to the vote. In fact, he gained national prominence for his defiant defense of the measure:
“You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, f*ck it; … I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing.”
McDonald has built a legacy as a staunch independent-minded legislator with guts. The image hasn’t warded off opposition though: Saratoga County Clerk Kathleen Marchione will challenge him in the June Republican primary.
Originally seen as a strong challenger, Marchione has been far outpaced in local endorsements. McDonald has been backed in recent weeks by heavy-hitters in the four-county district, including the Rensselaer County Executive Committee, the Troy Republican Committee and the Saratoga Springs GOP.
While Marchione has received backing from a few disgruntled committeemen, the nomination is expected to go to McDonald overwhelmingly. But where will the Conservative Party endorsement land in one of the closest watched primaries in the state?
The Columbia County Conservatives endorsed McDonald in March—the Saratoga committee endorsed his challenger. The state party had yet to issue a stance.
This will be the fatal test for the survival of classical conservatism. In the most basic sense of the philosophy, conservatism stresses the principle of limited government.
It’s about people being responsible for their own actions and being capable of making their own decisions.
Real conservatism stresses a commitment, not to easy success, but to the abundance of opportunity.
This is the conservatism of Senator Barry Goldwater that has been abandoned by modern adherents.
Goldwater, often called the Father of Modern Conservatism in our country, was derided as an “extremist” when he was the 1964 Republican nominee for President.
Twenty years later, as a leading member of the Senate, he criticized the far right social movement for abandoning the very basics of conservatism, namely individual privacy from government.
Discussing the Religious Right and Christian evangelist Jerry Falwell, Goldwater famously quipped, “Every good Christian should line up and kick Jerry Falwell’s ass.”
The question now becomes whether the Conservative Party of New York State will return to the principles that Goldwater fought for and become a force in state politics, or if it will continue on this destructive path of hatefulness and discrimination, which will undoubtedly lose elections for them.
All signs point to the second choice. In the 2012 U.S. Senate election, the Party has chosen social conservative attorney Wendy E. Long—a woman with zero statewide name recognition who will have a very difficult campaign against incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand.
With Party leaders unwilling to discuss, cooperate or lead effectively, it looks like it will have to be our generation that ends this political nightmare.