Anyone who wants to know what happens when the two-party system collapses in a state need only have read the New York Times’s astounding report published last week about the way Governor Andrew Cuomo sabotaged a state ethics commission investigation. In a competitive state, the story would have doomed Cuomo’s chances for reelection. But if the bringing to light of this corruption won’t stop Cuomo in November, it does give us a case study in how low the Empire State has sunk under unchallenged Democratic rule.
Cuomo broke several days of silence about the investigation to deny that his administration had ordered the Moreland Commission not to issue a subpoena to a media buying firm that had placed millions in ads for state Democrats including Cuomo. The governor’s top aide reached out to quash the subpoena and it swiftly complied with the demand. Instead of the independent inquiry into Albany’s pay-to-play culture the governor promised when he rolled it out last year, the commission turned out to be a mere show that Cuomo disbanded halfway through its intended 18-month tenure.
But the best the governor could do in defense of this indefensible record was to claim that since he created the commission, he shouldn’t be accused of interfering with it. This is the sort of lame excuse that would make even absolute monarchs blush. But Cuomo is unashamed. Not satisfied with pulling this sort of “L’Etat C’est Moi” routine out of the Louis XIV playbook, Cuomo channeled George Orwell when he told the Times today that the commission was a “phenomenal success” and completely independent.
It’s not clear that anyone, even his biggest supporters, believes Cuomo. But the only conclusion to be drawn from this shabby exercise in bald-faced lying is that with polls showing the governor holding a 33-point lead over Republican challenger and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, he thinks it doesn’t matter that even the Times—the bible for New York liberals—has labeled him a corrupt charlatan.
Perhaps he’s right. Though Astorino gives the GOP a credible alternative to Cuomo, it’s hard to envision the circumstances whereby a bankrupt state Republican Party can do much to put a dent in Cuomo’s reelection drive. New York is one of the bluest states in the union and though it had a three-term Republican governor as recently as only eight years ago in the person of George Pataki (who first gained office by ousting Cuomo’s father Mario in the 1994 Republican landslide), the state’s GOP is now in ruins. Republicans haven’t run a competitive race for governor or U.S. senator in New York since Pataki’s last victory in 2002 and there’s no sign that even an able politician like Astorino can change that.
There are a lot of reasons why New York’s GOP has lost its way and Pataki’s uninspiring reign in Albany is part of the answer, along with the demographic decline in the more conservative upstate regions and the shift of the suburbs from red to blue as has happened in many other places. But let’s leave aside the explanation for how New York became, for all intents and purposes, a one-party state with the exception of a strong GOP presence in the State Senate. It is the consequences of this situation that should concern liberals as well as the conservative minority in the state.
The problem is accentuated by the fact that in the past, an independent attorney general might have helped keep the governor and his gang honest. But the current New York AG Eric Schneiderman is a left-wing extremist more obsessed with hounding the state’s economic engine on Wall Street than in chasing white color criminals in Albany.
A government that cannot be held accountable is one that is indistinguishable from tyranny. Cuomo’s cavalier dismissal of the scathing Times report about his laughable foray into ethics should remind its readers of the kind of crackpot politics that New Yorkers tend to associate with less sophisticated constituencies in the deep south like Louisiana. But comparing New York to that ethically challenged state is an insult to the home of the Big Easy. Baton Rouge or any other historic cesspool of corruption in this country has nothing on Albany, and Cuomo’s empty show of reform only adds insult to injury for state voters. But if New Yorkers are not prepared to draw conclusions about Cuomo, then they shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves overtaxed and underserved by a government led by a man more interested in pandering to the far left on guns and abortion than in keeping New York competitive.
The memory of this story may haunt Cuomo should he ever be so foolish as to attempt a quixotic presidential candidacy. But in the meantime, he’s probably right not to worry about New Yorkers paying attention to his misdeeds. Yet New Yorkers would do well to ponder whether liberal ideology should be prioritized over good government. When you have a one-party state the latter is impossible.