We can now happily say that the 2018 general election is behind us, and the blizzard of TV ads, debates, mailings and other annoyances has now come to an official end. For a very short time we may get some peace and quiet, but that will soon be ended by the next round of second-guessing and speculation about the future of the two-party system and who the next leaders will be.
For now, I prefer to look back at the just-concluded election and try to figure out what trends have emerged and what changes we should hope and pray for. Let’s start with the national Republican Party. Once upon a time, the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan and the Bushes actually stood for something, even if you didn’t always agree with it. They were free traders, people who occasionally worked with those across the political aisle, and they worshipped every word of the Constitution.
The leaders of this year’s Republican Party no longer have an agenda that reflects the dreams and aspirations of their supporters. They have become beholden to Donald Trump, who is not a Republican and who has found dozens of ways to rob the party of its historical identity. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan became lap dogs to the president, each afraid of insulting or challenging him when it counted.
With the death of Sen. John McCain, the party has lost the one person who remembered what it stood for over the past century. The retirements of Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker will be another blow to the Grand Old Party. Whatever is left of it after this historic election will have to decide whether it will continue to pander to the president or instead try to regain some of its past luster by becoming a lot more independent. Party stalwarts shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for this change.
The Democratic Party, which entered this election year splintered into numerous factions, faces a dilemma of its own. If it swings too far to the left, it will wreck its chances against Trump should he seek another term. The Democrats in the new Congress will have to find their way to the center of the political spectrum or face the prospect of a disastrous defeat in 2020. It may not be easy, but nothing in politics is.
Come next year, Long Island will face a different political landscape in Albany. If the Democrats now control the State Senate — we didn’t know yet as the Herald went to press — the Island will have to find new ways to stake its claim to school aid and other critical funding. A key player in protecting the interests of the suburbs will be Sen. Todd Kaminsky. By Albany standards, his influence has risen dramatically in a very short time.
Kaminsky has a close relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and if he can package the votes of some Long Island senators with the Westchester delegation, he could become the voice of suburbia in Albany. Over the past 50-plus years, Long Island has been lucky to have a powerful Republican delegation protecting its interests. Having a legislative leader from this region is critical. City senators will be inclined to revive the commuter income tax, the millionaire’s tax and a variety of other measures that hurt the suburbs, so we’ll need a defender.
If control of the House of Representatives has changed hands, Long Island will have the benefit of new voices in the Washington power structure. Congress members Tom Suozzi and Kathleen Rice will aggressively seek important committee assignments. Rep. Greg Meeks, an African-American who represents portions of Nassau County, is expected to become a member of the new speaker’s inner circle. These officials could leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid for a wide variety of local projects.
There’s no reason to expect that Trump will change his governing style in his remaining two years in office. He rules by way of insults and lies, and that won’t change. The good news for Long Island is that there will be a new generation of leaders to protect its 3 million residents.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.