It’s said that every election has consequences. True enough. And some elections also carry a message. While the consequences of last week’s elections at all levels will take some time to discern, I believe the message voters sent is clear.
Just as they sent a message last year that they were not satisfied with business as usual, last Tuesday they sent a message that they still do want government to do the people’s business rather than getting bogged down in distracting infighting.
Let’s start with the two governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia. Voters in New Jersey, who had given Gov. Chris Christie strong support in his races, lost confidence in him and his policies as he allowed himself to believe that he was somehow above the people he represented. You can’t inflict Bridgegate on commuters, then essentially abandon your state for a quixotic run for president, only to come home and park yourself on a state beach you’ve closed to everyone else because you can’t pass a state budget on time, without inflicting irreparable harm on whoever your party nominates to succeed you. So Kim Guadagno, a capable politician who in most situations would have been a competitive candidate for governor, was instead doomed to sink with the Christie millstone hung around her neck.
In Virginia, which Hilary Clinton won by only 5 percentage points last November, Democrat gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam won by 9 points. That spread has real significance. To me it sends a signal that while Democratic voters have been energized by the turmoil and partisan fighting in Washington, Republican voters have been exhausted by it.
A significant number of the GOP’s strongest supporters — including those most inclined to support much of President Trump’s agenda — are weary of all the ceaseless partisan battling. They see the failure to come to terms on health care, immigration and now taxes as a sign that dysfunction still reigns in D.C. The swamp isn’t being drained; the alligators are just thrashing about and devouring one another.
So when Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie tried to push hot-button social issues rather than the pocketbook issues that matter most in elections — like economic opportunity and job growth — Republican voters reacted with indifference, and Democratic voters were even more motivated to get out and vote.
That should send a powerful signal to both the Trump administration and the Republican-majority Congress. Making America great again hinges on making good again on progress on the basic economic issues that led voters to reject the status quo and take a chance on an outsider for president in the first place. That means tackling landmark legislation like tax reform in a truly bipartisan fashion rather than attempting to ram through a poorly considered tax bill like the one the GOP is pushing in the House.
If the glaring defects in this legislation — including the proposed elimination of deductions for state and local taxes, home mortgage interest, and medical and higher education costs — aren’t corrected, voters will severely punish the GOP in next year’s congressional elections. But if the party works across the aisle with Democrats on a bipartisan basis, legislation could be passed with votes to spare, Congress could restore some of the public’s lost faith in that body, and Republicans could make good on their promise of meaningful tax reform.
The same principle holds true here on Long Island, where voters meted out some major punishment to candidates representing the status quo. For too long here, taxes have been too high and government too expensive, with voters left feeling that their interests were not being served well by either political party.
What if our newly elected local officeholders, too, reached across the aisle, strived for consensus and worked to make Long Island friendlier to economic growth? Or if they joined to fight scourges like MS-13 and the opioid epidemic? In Albany, as in Washington, putting people rather than politics first may not only be the best government, but the best politics, too. Let’s give it a try.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.