Progressives to the NYS Senate IDC_Rachel-Lavine
New York State Senate
Photograph from NY Daily News

At our last meeting of the Progressive Caucus we discussed that issue on both a philosophical and pragmatic level, and came to the conclusion: no you cannot be both a member of the NYS Senate IDC and a progressive Democrat. Those positions are not merely theoretically incompatible, they are politically at odds. The resolution, which was authorized at our last meeting, explains why progressives must be members of the full NYS Senate Democratic Conference and it has been garnering some attention.

The New York Daily News wrote a piece about it on its daily political blog on March 5th, noting the Progressive Caucus’ objection to IDC casting itself as a progressive power broker yet still failing to pass important legislation in their own chamber.

The article notes that the IDC’s position is that “even if many of the progressive measures reached the floor, there are not enough votes to pass them” (though how that argument supports the IDC’s argument that it serves as a progressive counter-weight to the Republicans eludes me).  By contrast, “the state party progressive caucus said chances are improved if the Democrats in the chamber–which actually hold a numerical majority–were united.” Read the full article here:

What the article doesn’t discuss is my other rejoinder to the supposed real-politik of the IDC position articulated above, which is two-fold. First, key legislation like the SAFE Act  has in fact recently passed both chambers, but only due to heavy political lifting by Governor Cuomo, and no thanks to the IDC. So with the right kind of advocacy even that obdurate body can be moved.

Second, as the social climate changes so too does the politcal climate, and what was commonly understood to be impossible becomes the new normal.

Fifteen years ago, even five years ago, the idea that gay marriage victories would be sweeping this nation’s courts and state legislatures, would have been seen as ridiculous, hopelessly naïve, utopian, and perhaps even a self-indulgent squandering of scarce political capital (that last one I heard many times, from very divergent quarters). Now, of course, in even the reddest of states like Texas, marriage equality is understood to be a constutionally protected right.  Progressives, conservatives, and independents alike understand gay marriage to be a key civil rights issue, a matter of fundamental fiscal and tax fairness, a generational touchstone, and a reflection of a changing social landscape where family and community diversity, including but expanding far beyond gay families, is the norm, not the exception.

Ideas about what is politically viable change and grow over time – – even in that hide-bound institution, the New York State Senate. But of course, that takes leadership. Here in New York, the leadership to legislatively win Marriage Equality came from the LGBT community, our elected representatives, and key allies like Governor Cuomo.

It’s the old political chestnut – to make change, you have to lead rather than follow.You have to take calculated risks. You have to ignore the conventional wisdom. You have to be – dare I say it? – independent.

The dictionary defines “independent” to mean “thinking or acting for oneself” and “not subject to another’s authority or jurisdiction; autonomous;free.” Having watched the IDC fail to pass key legislation like the full Women’s Equality Agenda , while simultaneously securing positions of great individual political powerand ensuring Republican control over the Senate, I’m wondering how the IDC fits within that definition.  In fact, the IDC meets only the first part of that definition, if thinking and acting for oneself equals acting in one’s sole self-interest. And the IDC is certainly not independent from – or free of – the Republicans’ authority.

Based on all of that, I’d say it’s time for the IDC to jettison the first part of their name. And I’d like to think that when they do so and are back to being the Democratic Conference, they’ll come back home to the full Democratic Conference.Because what is true, tried and true, is that the only way we make real change is by doing it together.


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