Fracking decision is keeping the governor up at night

The contest between the frackers and the anti-frackers has shifted into high gear. I suspect Governor Andrew Cuomo had no idea of the impact the fracking issue would have in New York. In fact, it has become a signature issue for New York liberals. Cuomo has done much to bring left-leaning moderates into his camp after starting out as a pro-business, almost blue dog Democrat. I suspect both his pollsters and his own political instinct warned him that if he wanted to go further in electoral politics and perhaps take up residence in the White House, he would have to do better with liberals. That’s how you get nominated for president when you’re a Democrat. He’s trying hard to satisfy that group.

His clarion call for gay marriage was a huge plank in his attempt to solidify liberal support. People like what he has done on gay marriage and gun control, to name just two of his achievements, but I suspect he knows that his Q (likeability) rating is not where they’d like it to be. Voters may respect his achievements but that doesn’t mean they like him in the same way they love Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Don’t make any mistake about it — the guy can be very charming but he misses that political je ne sais quoi, an essential part of what made FDR or JFK or even Bill Clinton what they were. People would follow them to hell and back, even when they made some very big mistakes. Cuomo’s problem is that people see him as a political professional who acts not out of principal but out of political expediency.

That’s where hydrofracking comes in. In the beginning, Cuomo obviously saw this attempt to coax gas out of the ground as a big win for him. It would show people that he could deal with the energy problems of the United States for years in the future. It would be a great talking point for a future Presidential campaign. After all, even Barack Obama is for fracking. In addition, Cuomo knew full well that upstate was crucial political territory for him. He knows that it was a killer for his father and he is obviously determined to learn from that. By saying yes to fracking, Cuomo also argues for upstate business development which is, according to almost everyone, a disaster area especially when compared to New York City.

The governor simply doesn’t know what to do. His big problem is that the fracking opposition won’t go away. A recent favorable report by the commissioner of the New York State Department of Health should have helped the Cuomo, pro- fracking disposition, but it didn’t. The opposition seems to believe that the health commissioner is acting on Cuomo’s orders and based on the kind of control Cuomo has over his commissioners, they may have a point. The very effective anti-fracking citizen lobby that can turn out tens of thousands of telephone calls and e-mail messages has not abated. If you are a governor and hundreds of thousands of people write you, you don’t like it. If you are this governor, you really don’t like it.

Some in the Cuomo camp believe that the constant anti-fracking protests are an isolated phenomenon. They point to the polls that are very close on the issue. Nevertheless it is clear that those opposed to fracking take their task very seriously. In fact, there is more than a little chance that this group will either not vote for Cuomo in the next election or vote for a third party candidate. If Cuomo, the brilliant Machiavelli of contemporary politics, is to pursue his path to the White House, he has to show a unified vote in the next election. I’m sure he’s staying up late at night on this issue.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/29/13

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