People need to know their governor is looking out for them
When politicians take money for their campaign coffers, they owe something back. That’s because there is honor among, well, politicians and lobbyists. If you see tons of money going to politicians from the real estate industry, you’d be foolish not to think that the people who own hotels and other big buildings want something back for their bucks. As Festus Haggen used to say on Gunsmoke, “Don’t you see?”
Now everyone is waiting to see whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo will allow hydrofracking in New York state. Cuomo is brilliant at both political strategy and fund raising (about $45 million for the last campaign) but he is caught up in a huge pincer movement between those who hate the idea of potentially polluting our water and further despoiling our air and those who want to make a buck from fracking. My hero, legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, put it to Cuomo this way: “Your father was perhaps the best governor New York state ever had and if you take the money that they want to give you for going along with fracking and injuring people for generations to come, you will go down as perhaps the worst.” Those were pretty powerful words and I suspect they left Cuomo reeling.
Hydrofracking puts Cuomo between a rock and a hard place. He doesn’t know what to do. As a result of this predicament, the governor’s top people were almost certainly told to stall. So first, the commissioner in charge of environmental conservation studied the problem to death and then transferred the ball to the health commissioner who eventually resigned and went elsewhere. It’s tough to be a medical professional of first rank and have to carry a governor’s political water.
Many people speculated that once Cuomo got through the election he would call for a modified fracking plan for New York whereby localities that voted to allow fracking would be allowed to “Drill baby drill” under strict supervision. They suspected that the Solomon-like Cuomo would attempt to cut the baby in half. Once the door was open, however, the genie would be out of the bottle and fracking would become a reality in the Empire State. But not so fast — there are some intervening political realities.
Cuomo has lost many voters on the left wing of the Democratic Party. Having styled himself as a social progressive and a pro-business fiscal conservative, the governor is getting beaten up by the more progressive members of his party. Fracking is no exception. A recent Pew poll showed that fracking is getting more and more unpopular among Democrats. So now the rock and the hard place are even closer together. After all, Cuomo got a million fewer votes in the last election than he got the time before. Many of those lost votes were those of angry Democrats who just stayed home. Since Cuomo is much smarter than I am, he’s got to understand that by accepting the money and not taking Pete Seeger’s advice against advancing fracking, he will lose even more of his natural voters.
The truth is that while there seems to be a good deal of evidence that fracking is dangerous, it is even more significant that we simply don’t know exactly what the process will do to our water supply. Why in the world would we take a chance on risking our water, the most important thing on earth when it comes to human survival? People simply have to know that their governor is looking out for them and not for money to run for political office. While he clearly doesn’t want or need my advice, Governor Cuomo really should close the door on fracking. That’s when the people will know that he cares about them. Sometimes doing the right thing is more important than playing the political game.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 12/2/14