A commentator said recently that the New York Republican Party needs ditch diggers.
It does not.
It needs a grave digger.
Because, as a statewide relevant entity, it is dead.
The party lacks the ability to wage a statewide campaign or to influence legislatively or socially the policies and priorities that will guide the state and its governance.
We’d hold a wake, but nobody would care enough to attend.
For the foreseeable future, Republicans in New York will be a local party upstate, with occasional boutique eruptions within commuting distance of New York City. It will, for a few more years anyway, continue to be a powerbroker in the backwoods.
But it will mean nothing in Albany. And the state Senate and Assembly seats claimed by Republicans will be political payoffs serving no purpose other than managing a few staff patronage jobs and helping individual officeholders to pad their state pensions.
Masterful Democrat majorities in both the Senate and the Assembly – combined with the all-or-nothing legislative game played in Albany – mean that Republicans will neither initiate nor influence legislation, and will be in a position to do nothing more than beg crumbs from the majority caucuses and the governor.
That’s a simple and undeniable matter of math.
As a local party, the Republicans will continue to elect sheriffs and county clerks, as well as a few county executives and legislatures, and a bunch of town supervisors and board members, as well as village mayors and trustees. County chairmen and town committee leaders will be petty masters, holding power by doling out endorsements and jobs.
Anyone wanting to be a judge outside the metropolitan counties will still have to pay court to the various county chairmen. And rural district attorneys – the new must-have, big-money job for otherwise-impoverished lawyers – will all but worship local Republican bosses.
That power, though significant, will be local and limited. And it will be driven by the self-interest side of politics – the side driven by patronage, not philosophy.
As a consequence, the Republican Party in upstate will have less and less to do with traditional conservative principles. In part because of the mercenary nature of patronage politics, and in part because Albany control of counties and municipalities means that political philosophy cannot express itself in local New York governance. It’s all a progressive, big-government cram down, no matter what local officials may believe orpromise.
The last exception will be sheriffs, who will grouse about the Safe Act and Raise the Age, and most directly exemplify supposed Republican values.
So, to repeat, the status is: Republicans are dead in Albany and as a statewide organization, but retain significant control and influence in rural upstate counties and communities.
Now here’s the bad news: Even that power is going to wane.
As a million New York refugees have flooded across America to escape Hurricane Andy, those move-outs have disproportionally been upstate Republicans. And that’s not an accident. The policies and punishments imposed on rural New Yorkers by New York City Democrats have undeniably been intended to depopulate upstate. When the governor said “there is no place in New York” for those who don’t share his political philosophy, he wasn’t kidding. He was expressing his administration’s mission statement toward upstate.
And so the sons and daughters of rural New York have moved away, further weakening their communities and counties and further empowering Albany and New York City.
The traditional Republican values of upstate are being diluted by depopulation. And the Democratic Party is propagating itself here – as everywhere – by promoting poverty, alienation and dependence. Increasingly, the demographic profile of upstate New York is looking like a traditional Democrat voter. With state-driven taxes and mandates driving business and agriculture down, most upstate communities find a large percentage of their residents depending on a government check for support. If you work for the government or depend on a benefit check, you are apt to vote Democrat.
And more and more rural upstaters – like suburban upstaters – are going to start voting Democrat.
And as they start to elect local and county Democratic officials, those officials will find friends and support in Albany that Republican officials will not, which will only further advantage Democrats and hasten their growth.
Which will hasten the demise of the Republican hold on rural upstate.
So, like I said, New York Republicans don’t need a ditch digger.
They need a grave digger.