This year, the state Legislature succeeded in delivering the most progressive policy agenda in generations. And much of it happened because of a grassroots movement spearheaded by the Working Families Party.
Last year, the WFP and other progressive groups were brave enough to buck the status quo and support insurgent challengers to the IDC, the group of Democrats In Name Only who helped the Republicans hold on to power in Albany. That paved the way for a real Democratic majority in Albany, and for a progressive agenda that had been bottled up for years.
It was the extension of WFP’s work over the course of two decades working with progressive Democrats to make government put people first, from winning raises in the minimum wage to guaranteeing paid sick days and family leave to combating New York’s overly punitive drug laws.
We finally passed the DREAM Act, gave undocumented immigrants access to drivers licenses, took serious action against climate change and strengthened renters’ protections — which some of the state’s wealthiest real estate donors opposed but no longer had the power to derail.
Now, Albany insiders are trying to undermine the coalition we’ve built and punish us for our success. They’re seeking to ban fusion voting. It’s about weakening the power of WFP, and progressives should not stand for it.
Here’s how it’s happening. One critical progressive goal we haven’t yet accomplished is public financing of state elections — a reform that limits the power of wealthy corporate interests and gives people a bigger voice in politics. Toward the end of the budget negotiations, without the specifics of a plan in place, legislators agreed to a commission to work out the details.
Then, at the 11th hour, Gov. Cuomo added a provision that gives the commission power to change or even eliminate New York’s fusion voting system by tying it inseparably to a popular public financing plan.
Fusion, which lets candidates run on both large and small party lines, gives voters the right to vote for the candidate of their choice and the party of their choice. The WFP has used that provision to support and elect progressive Democrats in every corner of the state.
And while there’s a massive groundswell of grassroots energy in favor of public financing in New York and across the country, there is no demand for an end to fusion. In fact, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand; Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren; 17 members of Congress; 19 national progressive organizations; 26 New York state senators; and hundreds more local elected officials strongly support fusion voting.
But the attack on fusion is really about attacking the Working Families Party for helping flip the state Senate blue. The end of the IDC and real Democratic majorities in both chambers is what allowed us to win meaningful reforms. That’s why powerful forces want to stop the WFP.
The good news is, the right to fusion voting is cemented in New York’s Constitution — and no politician or commission has the power to end it. That’s why the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, has upheld this right against challenges in 1910, 1911 and again in 1973.
The effort to end fusion voting is more than merely unconstitutional; it’s politically unwise for Democrats. Especially in the purpler parts of New York, the WFP has helped bring new votes to our Democratic candidates by giving swing voters another way to vote for our candidates, which has helped grow and protect our majorities.
In those areas, the WFP adds critical votes that help candidates beat their Republican opponents. That’s why Democrats like Anthony Brindisi, Antonio Delgado and Max Rose, the three Democrats who won purple congressional districts in 2018, all support fusion and stand with the WFP.
If we do away with fusion, who benefits? Most likely, spoiler candidates who’ll hurt Democrats’ prospects and boost Republicans. At a time when so many young people and activists are angry at the Democratic Party, taking away this responsible way of voicing their opposition to Democrats sends more people to a third party line. We’ve seen the danger that Ralph Nader and Jill Stein have done on the national stage. Why would we want to make that happen more often in New York?
Democrats are on the rise in New York. Banning fusion would mean telling thousands of energetic progressives that we’re kicking them out of the tent. And that’s the last thing we should be doing.
Jackson represents Inwood, Washington Heights, the Upper West Side and other Manhattan neighborhoods in the state Senate. Mosley represents Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and other Brooklyn neighborhoods in the state Assembly.