Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Minor parties face major obstacles in New York

Up until last week 2019 was a good year for the Libertarian Party in New York.

In 2018, Libertarian candidate Larry Sharpe ran a spirited gubernatorial campaign. His voice and vision were so fresh, so different that he became the only political candidate this writer has ever endorsed in 14 years of this column. Nearly 100,000 New Yorkers shared my assessment and cast votes for Sharpe. By surpassing the State’s 50,000-vote threshold, the Libertarian Party (LP) gained true ballot access in 2019 for the first time ever in the LP’s 47-year history in the Empire State.

Feeding off the energy of Sharpe’s efforts and the very-important ballot access which led to the Party’s increased visibility and viability in New York, more people joined the LP (36% growth since February) and more people ran for the LP (there were 60 candidates on local ballots throughout the State in November’s elections). Seven Libertarians won their elections and, come 2020, they will be serving a variety of roles from city councilman to town clerk to district attorney.

But, after all those successes came news last week from the State’s Commission on Public Finance that could potentially close-off inroads being made by the Libertarians and other so-called third parties.

Instead of achieving ballot access by securing 50,000 votes in the race for governor every 4 years, the minor parties would, under the Commissions’ plan, have to requalify every 2 years by receiving either 2 percent of total votes or 130,000 votes in a presidential year or 140,000 in a gubernatorial year.

The nine-member commission, made up solely of Democrats and Republicans, looked at this as throwing a bone to the third parties as the original proposal called for a minimum of 250,000 votes per executive election.

130,000 is just as bad as 250,000 when it comes to ballot access. It’s still a quantum leap from today’s standards and it creates a significant hurdle for parties attempting to woo electors and elected to the fold.

How significant?

Of the most popular minor parties in New York only the Conservative Party would have been left standing after 2018’s election were the rules in play, they having secured nearly 239,000 votes. Struck from 2019 and 2020 ballots would have been the Libertarians and parties that have for the most part become widely-recognizable across the state – Working Families, Green, Independence and the Serve America Movement.  

The loss of ballot access makes things very difficult for those that want to break up the status quo. Rather than putting all of their grassroots and administrative efforts in developing ideas, candidates, and support the unqualified parties have to complete a petition process in order to get a candidate listed on the ballot.

Of course, the Commission has chosen to make that more difficult, too. Currently, it takes 15,000 signatures. Under the commission’s plan minor parties will need 45,000. Just imagine the roadwork, hustle, and hassle that is needed to canvas the state for 3 times as many John Hancocks than are needed now.

Removing ballot access from a party also removes some democratic principles from party members. An unqualified party is unable to have a primary for state-wide offices. That means it’s up to party heads to decide who’s running under their title; it’s not up to the people of the party. That not only silences different voices it can also lead to infighting among the power brokers of the party.

This is all part of the Commission’s plan.

They want the infighting.

They want alternative ideas to be quieted.

They want the minor parties to be unrecognizable and forgettable.

They want the two-party system to continue its domination.

They want to control every one of us and everything we do.   

It’s not the least bit coincidental that the de facto chairman of the Commission is Jay Jacobs, the head of the state’s Democratic Party. It was a commission doing the work of the two Parties, not of the many People. If the Commission’s very significant policy changes don’t tell you that they think the minor parties could really pose a threat to their power, then nothing will.

Some will say that’s conspiracy talk, that minor parties are meaningless and can have no positive impact. I could say the same about the major parties.

Look around the state. What have Governor Cuomo and his Democratic cronies done to improve our economy’s standing? What did Governor Pataki and his Republican cohorts do to stave off economic decline? Nothing and nothing.

Look around the country. Too many Americans are all-in with the Democrats or the Republicans. That partisan divide has made our nation an ugly mess.

It time for something a little different, even if that difference is sprinkled in a little at a time.

The LP won 7 seats this year. That’s where revolutions start.

State commissions? That’s where revolutions end.

From the 02 December 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, November 22, 2019

Better living through the rules of children

If you venture onto social media or turn on the news, you’d be hard pressed to believe that we are in the holiday season. Turmoil and hate are everywhere: The impeachment hearings have magnified the party-driven divide in our country; generations are fighting with one another as made evident by the “OK Boomer” trend and that which beget it; Syracuse University has been bombarded by hateful messages reflecting incidents elsewhere; and so much more.

The love and eternal hope that should dominate Thanksgiving and Christmas – and every day outside of this next month, for that matter – just isn’t there. People are choosing instead to take darker paths. All of these actions, and so much more, are all quite disconcerting for this is not behavior you would expect out of grown adults.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe the supposed maturity of adulthood isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

I've often found that the simple rules that we suggest to, even demand of, children to govern their lives and their behaviors are timeless and ageless expectations that should be applied to adults, too. Our companies, families, communities and world would be better off were we to govern and lead all of them with the pure innocence and unconditional love that children have in their worldview.

For instance, take the succinct Scout Oath: “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

The Scout Law that accompanies it is: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”

Those rules, which millions of boys have memorized and are charged to live by, are pretty impressive standards. Their call for moral clarity knows no boundaries – not for nations, race, creeds nor social standings.

They are rules that I strive to live by and rules that I often tell business and community leaders that they should follow. It’s good to have some sort of moral compass in what one does personally and professionally. Even a Godless society can be a good one if people learn to carry themselves accordingly -- if someone doesn’t believe in a god, expectations of pristine behavior can be had, whether they occur organically or are learned.

Not surprisingly, more often than not that good behavior yields good results for good people. Those who approach their lives – and the lives of others -- with dignity, class, etiquette, and love seem to succeed in life and work. Some say that’s the way the fates, the gods, the very nature of the universe seem to work. More truthfully, if you treat others well they will do the same to you.

That speaks to the stark power of the Golden Rule, something so useful, so important, so potent that in some way, shape or form it can found in every religion on Earth: “Do unto others as you as you would have them do unto you”. That is the underlying tenet, the foundation, in the life lessons that we as adults try so often to instill in kids – be it through parental guidance, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, our churches or our schools.

But, it’s damaging  -- and damning – to our world that those same adults do not practice what they preach. If the rules of children are known to count for something, then why do we abandon the simplicity of childhood upon becoming of legal age? Why do we say one thing to the young and do something entirely different?

If those rules are good enough for our kids, then they are certainly good enough for us.

And, in today’s world, it seems we need them more than ever. Life is too short to live miserably and with disregard to those going through it with you. We’re all in this together.

From the 25 November 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, November 15, 2019

Advertising at NY schools would bring in much-needed revenues

Sometimes when watching the 6:30 national news you might catch in the background of stories about public schools in other states sights that seem completely foreign to New Yorkers – football field sponsorships and other means of advertising throughout the school grounds.

Such sponsorships have been a windfall to the districts that partake in it.

It could be the same for our local schools…if the State let them pursue it.

In September of 2019 the Empire Center’s Peter Murphy produced a white paper looking at this very issue.  He provided a stunning list of examples of successful partnerships between businesses and schools.  

The South Bend School District secured a $300,000 deal with a credit union for stadium naming rights and is in process of securing $3 million more in miscellaneous naming rights from numerous enterprises.  

The Prosper School District near Dallas got their local pediatric hospital to kick-in $2.5 million for naming rights at their football field.

The Morris School District in New Jersey brings in $3,300 per bus per year by allowing advertising signage on them.

Those represent a handful of literally hundreds of success stories across the country. In all cases, the sponsorships have allowed the districts to forgo tax increases -- and even decrease their tax rates -- while ensuring their students have the very best science, computer, and tech labs and access to the arts and athletics.

We could use a healthy dose of that here in New York.

Populations are on the decline and taxes are high. More revenues are being collected from fewer people, compounding the woes that have led to Upstate’s decline. This has caused many districts to consider what services, programs and teachers to cut in response to this fiscal stress, which will ultimately lead to bare bones education in many districts which would take away some of the niceties that families have come to expect and students need in order to be prepared for college and/or the workforce.

Since they can go to the well only so many times in their beleaguered communities, districts need alternative sources of income. Advertising fits the bill.

But, in order to reap those benefits, it would take some help from the State.

It starts with the State Constitution. Section 1 of Article VIII of our legal framework says “No county, city, town, village or school district shall give or loan any money or property to or in aid of any individual, or private corporation or association, or private undertaking…”

Numerous interpretations of the “giving property” language by the office of the state Attorney General through the years have stymied most attempts to secure funding because, in theory, the schools would be giving property, leased or on loan, albeit small, to the businesses sharing their name, logo, or brand.  

As if the furor of the AG isn’t enough, schools must also contend with standards put forth by the Board of Regents and the State Education Department.  To clarify their stand on the Constitution, the Regents prohibit schools from entering into contracts that permit commercial promotional activity on school campuses.

So, because of these interpretations, New Yorkers are denied the access to revenue streams that residents of other states enjoy, putting the entire burden on taxpayers.

There are some ways to correct this.

One would be the full repeal of the state’s prohibition of school bus advertisements. While most buses are not property of the schools (for example, Ridge Road Express operates the bus services in Niagara County), the owners thereof are not allowed to grant advertising. If they could, you’d see a marked decline in the rate extended to schools.

The Legislature would also have to pass legislation that would authorize commercial activity such as sponsorships, naming rights and commercial advertising on school grounds. If they did so, it would require an alteration of the Constitution through a referendum on the November ballots. Any legislative proposal must be approved by two successive Legislatures before being submitted for voter approval. So, even if they moved on this in 2020, we wouldn’t see results until 2022.  

But, getting the Legislature onboard might prove difficult. The Empire Center’s report notes that bills to authorize advertising were introduced in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017 yet they never advanced from the Assembly’s Education Committee despite passage by the Senate in ’15 and ’17.

So, what can you do as a parent who wants the best for your kids, a teacher who needs resources for your students, and as a taxpayer who would like your burden lessened?

Heading into the next legislative session that begins in January, reach out to your Assemblyperson and Senator and ask that they reintroduce such legislation and do what they can to champion it.

We’re faced with serious existential crises in our schools and this would certainly help weather the storm. If naming rights can be the difference between keeping or cutting orchestra or shop class it’s certainly worth the change in the Constitution and the change in our culture.

From the 18 November 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News