By Stacey A. Eliuk
The average Democrat takes a progressive agenda for granted when living in New York. We’re not Texas, where lawmakers have passed legislation dramatically restricting access to abortion clinics across the state. We’re not Wisconsin, whose highest court upheld a law ending most collective-bargaining rights for government employees. We’re not even our neighbor, Pennsylvania, where no law exists on the books protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community from discrimination in the workplace. However, every New York Democrat who has interacted with state politics knows how dangerous that assumption can be.
Despite outnumbering Republicans by nearly three million registered voters statewide, New York’s state Senate had been solidly Republican until 2008—the same year Barack Obama turned out New York Democrats to vote in the presidential election. Since then, it has been competitively controlled between the two parties.
Time and again, the Republican-controlled state Senate road-blocked legislation that would have made life better for many New Yorkers. Despite the many advantages of youth investment, Senate Republicans have consistently voted against the Dream Act, denying affordable higher education to the immigrant children who make New York stronger. They diverted more than $130 million from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an effort to promote a clean-energy future with lower greenhouse gas emissions. They voted down Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act and refused to codify into law the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade protecting a woman’s right to choose. And most recently, despite major upheavals in legislative leadership, they still continue to ignore the need for ethics reform.
Over the years, Democrats closed the gap, seat by seat winning districts historically under Republican control in the Upper East Side, southwest and northeast Queens and Westchester. During two terms of Democratic control of the Senate, Democrats were able to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws, giving judges the authority to rehabilitate instead of incarcerate. They passed meaningful ethics legislation, strengthening campaign finance laws and disclosure requirements of legislators’ outside income. And in 2011, we codified marriage as a legal right for all New Yorkers.
Today, Republicans again hold the Senate by a slim majority. With excitement over the New York Democratic presidential primary in full swing, now is the time to capitalize on that momentum and energize voters about down-ticket Democrats. Regardless of whether Democrats sport Clinton stickers or Sanders swag, one thing we can all get behind is the need for a Democratic State Senate.
In the last few weeks, Democrats of all backgrounds have come out to support Todd Kaminsky, state Assembly member and Democratic candidate for the state Senate in a special election to replace former Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Despite being a common-sense candidate who served as a federal prosecutor and state legislator, Kaminsky’s race is still too close to call. Between now and Election Day, Democrats need to take advantage of national momentum to deliver one more seat to the state Senate Chamber.
Looking beyond April’s election, equally critical is the need for us as Democrats to keep the trust of our electorate by building a philosophical tent large enough for all members of our party to act under its umbrella. It is no secret that Democratic members of the Senate have not always been united. Yet when the opportunity arises and expected Democratic turnout is high in November, whether members are mainstream conference, Independent Democratic Conference or simply a Democrat aligned with neither, the time has come to roll up our sleeves and work together to the benefit of the people of New York.
There’s much to do, but as the newly elected president of the Queens County Young Democrats, I’m proud to work with people who believe that their actions matter: whether it’s having conversations at the door, on the phone, or with your friends and neighbors about the causes and candidates that will determine our future. City, state or national, we can make New York welcoming to all, but we’ll have to bring everyone together if we want to see that happen: working with people from different backgrounds, with different skills and stories, whose parents come from all places, races and tax brackets, to steadily continue to curve the moral arc of history toward justice.
Stacey A. Eliuk
President, Queens County Young Democrats