New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is getting woke.
In the wake of his primary challenge by former “Sex in the City” star Cynthia Nixon, the son of liberal legend Mario Cuomo is finding new and exciting ways to prove that he’s just as progressive as she is. Last month this took the form of lying on the ground for a “die-in” protest at Zuccotti Park, formerly the home of Occupy Wall Street.
But this week, Cuomo has actually affected a policy change to show off his progressive bona fides. He effectively changed a law prohibiting parolees from voting until they are no longer under supervision by granting conditional pardons (and the right to vote) to 35,000 parolees in the state. He said the executive action was needed because the Republican-led state senate refused to pass a bill allowing the ex-cons access to the ballot.
It’s a curious argument given that Republicans were duly elected to the Senate to make these kinds of decisions. But, in the face of being primaried by a progressive celebrity, a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do. The first thing a cynic might suggest is that these are 35,000 New Yorkers who will be grateful for the restoration of their franchise and reward Cuomo, or Democrats in general, with their votes. And that may be part of it, but the deeper, perhaps more cynical plot line is that he has to keep up with a Nixon platform that falls, as the playwright Herb Gardner once put it, somewhere to the left of whoopee.
Progressive Talent Show
Earlier this month Nixon tweeted about how rich white men cannot be allowed to participate in the marijuana industry once it becomes legal in New York.
Now that public opinion has shifted on marijuana, rich white men like Boehner and companies like Monsanto are trying to cash in. We can’t let them rake in profits while thousands of people, mostly people of color, continue to sit in jail for possession and use.
— Cynthia Nixon (@CynthiaNixon) April 12, 2018
Even though we all know rich white men are the worst, it is not clear how Nixon plans to use the state’s authority to bar them from selling grass. In fact, there is likely no plausible way to do so, but the real message was that she is on the side of the oppressed New Yorkers who find themselves incarcerated.
Not to be outdone, Cuomo is using his authority to give these people back the right to vote, as he tweeted out yesterday.
Today I’m issuing an executive order giving parolees the right to vote.
It is unconscionable to deny voting rights to New Yorkers who have re-entered society.
— Archive: Governor Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) April 18, 2018
In the coming days, we should not be surprised if Cuomo claims authorship of the Port Huron statement, the original one, not the compromised second draft, or starts wearing a beret. The Democratic primary is quickly turning into a Che Guevara lookalike contest, albeit, one Cuomo is still likely to win.
Opportunity For The GOP?
Under usual circumstances, Cuomo’s lurch to the Left might be stunted by fear of a general election, where he would have to scramble back to the center. But this year, not only is there an expected blue tsunami coming, but the Republicans aren’t exactly throwing out household names to oppose him. State Sen. John DeFrancisco and Dutchess County Exec. Marc Molinaro are both well respected within the New York GOP, but they’re not the kind of sexy names that strike fear into political scions like Cuomo.
However, while a GOP pick up of the governor’s mansion in Albany is not expected, Cuomo’s rebranding from solid centrist to Zuccotti Park protester could shake things up. And, should Nixon actually defeat Cuomo through the strength of her apparent New York City base, that would open the door much wider for Republicans.
The Center Can’t Hold
The most significant takeaway from Cuomo’s announcement to let parolees vote is the signal it sends that moderate Democrats need not apply. And this is no small shift for him. Cuomo has a famous rivalry with New York City mayor and Sandinista loving socialist Bill de Blasio. Nixon’s top advisers are connected to the mayor and it’s no secret he would love to see her win. Both Cuomo and de Blasio have also been spoken of as possible presidential candidates in 2020.
Cuomo’s brand has, until now, been that of a centrist, a politician who can appeal to progressives in Brooklyn, but also moderates in Utica. That seems to be going out the window. At a time when Democrats, keen on the opportunities opened by the Left’s abject hatred of Trump, are debating whether to appeal to the center or put on pink hats and yell about stuff, Cuomo seems to be opting for the latter.
This would all appear to indicate that Cuomo is at least a little scared of Nixon. But frankly, that’s odd. A recent poll showed him leading the former TV star 58-27, which isn’t exactly a tight race. His decision to allow parolees to vote is likely less about staving of Nixon’s challenge than it is placing himself close to the heart of the Democratic party, which is eschewing Clinton-esque moderation and embracing progressive identity and victim-based politics.
As the race heats up in the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how firmly Nixon’s leash is attached to Cuomo’s collar and how far to the left she can pull him. Will he draw a line between himself and her, or adopt the positions of the Hollywood progressive crowd? Will her candidacy encourage more celebrities to run as Democrats, as anti-Trump versions of Trump himself?
The 35,000 parolees now entitled to vote aren’t likely to make much of a difference in any election, but the move is still important because of what it signifies about Cuomo’s shift away from the center, and what that means long term for the Democrat Party.