Taking the hit for standing on principle

As for Roy McDonald facing the loss of his state Senate seat, it illustrates something I haven’t see

As for Roy McDonald facing the loss of his state Senate seat, it illustrates something I haven’t seen before — a politician taking a principled stand and paying the price. When has that happened before? At least around here.

I mean, McDonald is your basic upstate conservative Republican who seemed to share all the upstate conservative Republican values, including revulsion at homosexuality, but last year, as we all know, he had a change of heart and voted in favor of gay marriage. The heavily Democratic Assembly had regularly passed a gay marriage bill, and the just-barely Republican Senate had regularly blocked it, but last year, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo providing a vigorous push, was different. Four Republicans broke ranks, including McDonald, allowing gay marriage to become law in the Empire State.

Did McDonald not thereby betray the trust of his constituents?

Well, if his constituents didn’t like it, they could take the job and “shove it,” as he famously remarked to a reporter.

So look what we have now — a Tea Party-type Republican, Saratoga County Clerk Kathy Marchione, holding a razor’s edge advantage over McDonald in the Republican primary. Kathy Marchione, who established her Tea Party bona fides a few years back, when Eliot Spitzer was governor, by declaring she would not comply with his order to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, an act of defiance in which she was supported by the county Board of Supervisors. (Result: Spitzer backed down.)

There was somebody you could count on, if you were a conservative Republican.

Now we have Gov. Cuomo, the Democrat, actually coming out in support of McDonald, declaring he would be sad if McDonald lost and if Sen. Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie also lost, both of them being locked in primary races so tight that the outcomes will depend on absentee ballots. Saland was another one of the four Republicans who voted with Cuomo for gay marriage rights. (One other won easily, and one didn’t seek reelection.)

It would be disappointing, Cuomo said, if they lost their seats, and he even left open the possibility that if they win in this round he would support them in the general election against Democratic opponents. Holy cow!

He described their support for gay marriage as “an act of political courage.”

All I can do is agree, and I don’t think it matters if you support gay marriage or not. You can still recognize that for an elected official to vote against his party’s position on such a high-profile issue as this takes guts.

Yes, I know McDonald raked in a lot of campaign contributions as a result, but he didn’t really need them. In his last two runs for the Senate, in 2010 and 2008, he won handily, and there is no indication that this year would have been any different. All he had to do was vote as everyone expected him to vote.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, another supporter of gay marriage, said of the four Senate Republicans who voted in favor of it, “No matter what happens in the election they’re going to have the satisfaction of knowing for the rest of their life they stood up and voted their conscience … There’s got to be something more than doing what’s right for your political career.”

Fine words that ordinarily I would dismiss as so much political gas, but on this occasion they seem right. You could even argue that taking a stand on principle doesn’t count for much unless you pay a price.

The jackpot

Also in our fair state, I saw by a report from Common Cause that the gambling industry has been pouring money into Albany as if a spigot just opened in the biggest slot machine in the world — close to $50 million spent since 2005.

For what? Of course, to influence the building or non-building of up to seven full-blown Las Vegas-style casinos, as proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, an undertaking that would be worth many billions of dollars.

The gambling racket — “industry” is really too virtuous-sounding — spent $4 million on lobbying and more than $700,000 on campaign contributions in the first half of this year alone, as the Legislature prepares to vote for the second time on whether to amend the state Constitution to allow casinos.

The Assembly approved the amendment last year by a vote of 96 to 45; the Senate approved it 36-0. A second vote will come next year, and if that’s favorable — nobody is making book against it — the proposal will go to a referendum in November.

“With a total of nearly $50 [million] in political money spent by the gambling industry in New York since 2005, it’s no surprise that the expansion of gambling has been met with little resistance by elected officials,” Common Cause said.

The largest single recipient of the gambling racket’s generosity, in case you’re wondering, is the chairman of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee, J. Gary Pretlow of Mount Vernon, who has received $102,750, or 30 percent of his total campaign contributions.

This is not to mention the $2.3 million that has gone to the Legislature’s “soft money” accounts, and it is not to mention the $716,000 that has gone to Gov. Cuomo or the $2.4 million that has gone to his Committee to Save New York.

If you want to bet the gambling racket will win this one, I believe you will have to settle for very short odds.

Carl Strock is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach him at [email protected]

Categories: Opinion

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