Viewpoint: Who we elect in the June 23 primary matters

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Karen Rubin, Columnist

By Karen Rubin

The primary election deadline is June 23, by which time everyone needs to have mailed back their absentee ballot, voted early or in person.

In the contested Democratic primary for Congress, Tom Suozzi merits re-election. This is despite the disappointment progressives have had at his bend-over-backwards efforts to reach across aisle (i.e. with the Problem Solvers Caucus) with a party that has no interest in solving problems. But Suozzi is smart, interested in achieving results, a visionary and where it counts on the right side of issues, including women’s reproductive freedom, immigration reform, gun violence prevention, climate action, and criminal justice.

And if anyone can get the punitive cap on SALT deductions repealed, it is Suozzi. He engages well with his constituents, is willing to take questions and answer without pandering. Seeking to apply purity tests to candidates is like reaching for the stars and falling flat down to earth, getting nowhere. It is more productive to elect those who can mostly effectively represent our community’s and nation’s interests and values.

But this election – the first in New York to involve liberal absentee ballot and early voting – is good practice for our election system.  It follows the abject failure of elections going back to the Iowa caucus, the shameful forced-march in Wisconsin and now Georgia and Nevada – and these were “only” the primary. In fact, Iowa’s vote-by-mail process was so successful, Iowa Republicans have voted to restrict it for the November general election. Judicial Watch, the group that brought you Hillary Clinton’s emails, is suing California to stop automatic distribution of absentee ballots to registered voters (such as we had in New York for the school budget election).

Republicans are spending millions on campaigns to roll back access to mail-in-voting even as the spread of coronavirus accelerates because of the Republican administration’s utter failure to protect their people in favor of perpetuating a politically salient “mission accomplished,” “all is well” lie to push ahead with reopening the economy. If there is no coronavirus threat, then businesses can reopen (no need for actual enforceable health guidelines); unemployment benefits can be ended, “saving” billions for corporate “relief” (that $600? More than many workers earn, says Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow); and workers forced back to unsafe workplaces like indentured servants.

Shutting down or at least bankrupting the U.S. Postal System (despite actually being a function inscribed in the Constitution) is part of the plan. Indeed, if USPS is so strapped it can’t deliver ballots to meet deadlines, like in Wisconsin, so much the better.

Indeed, COVID-19 is the ultimate tool of voter suppression. What may be at the root of such a cavalier attitude about spikes in cases where the reopening was too swift and aggressive, while at the same time forcing people to line up for hours and cram into fewer polling places to vote? The realization that COVID-19 is sickening and killing people of color, poor and vulnerable in urban areas in disproportionate numbers – in other words, Democrats.

As protesting for 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination without significant change in systemic racism has demonstrated vs. the lightening-fast change being enacted into law just weeks since George Floyd’s atrocious murder at the hands of police (New York, Louisville, Colorado), protests get you only so far. What has made the difference? States and municipalities where change is happening are led by Democrats, by African-Americans, by women. It is voting that implements real change through legislation. It is the people we elect. But if our vote is impeded, that’s what preserves the power of the status quo.

Blocking vote-by-mail while cultivating the coronavirus pandemic is just another in a long list of how Republicans have done everything possible to obstruct election protection measures advanced by the Democratic-majority House to prevent a repeat of Russia’s meddling in 2016.  Only this year, it could be Russia, China, North Korea, Iran or even just Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, using the tools and techniques he calls “Death Star” acquired from Cambridge Analytica.

The 2020 election is very much the “election of our lifetime” (so was 2016). But Republicans realize that not only is their dictator wannabe in the White House at risk (and desperate to avoid prosecution if he is thrown out of office), so is control of the Senate. Under “Grim Reaper,” Moscow Mitch McConnell, the Senate has been an agency to install the most unqualified ideologues in history on the courts who will be determining the terms of society for 40 years, while the House under Democrats has been the only guardrail against outright autocracy. Not incidentally, the 2020 election is also for control of state houses, which will be in charge of redistricting every congressional district in the country after the 2020 census (which if anyone is bothering to notice, the Trump administration is doing its best to make sure is undercounted ).

Probably the only argument that will convince Republicans not to block vote-by-mail is this: People will be all the more determined, even to the point of putting their lives at risk, to vote in this “election of our lifetime” to counteract the existential threat four more years of Trump and Republican control present. The result will be a resurgence of COVID-19 which would come at high cost to state coffers and likely a renewed shutdown of the economy, if not just lost productivity and consumer spending. Put risk in terms of Wall Street, not Main Street, and maybe Republicans will care.

But then it will be the Democrats’ fault and mess to clean up, along with the trillions added to the national debt that Republicans don’t seem to care about as long as a Republican is in the White House.

Vote. In every election. From village to county, state to federal, primary to general. Who we elect matters. It is the essence of our “We the People” “For the People” democracy, and the only way we can preserve it.

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