Purple haze all in my brain,
Lately things they don't seem the same. -- Jimi Hendrix
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The iconic rock guitarist's lyric captures the continuing success of the Nassau Republicans in an increasingly Democratic county. Same for Suffolk Democrats in a still-GOP county. And if the "red" and "blue" national parties want to win the White House or control Congress, they should look to Long Island's "purple" politics -- a staple of America's moderate suburbs.
Purple refers to the blend of political sensibilities that appeals to suburbanites, one of the most influential voting blocs. It's a term most commonly used to describe "swing" states that seesaw back and forth in presidential elections. While New Yorkers inhabit one of the bluest states, Long Islanders may be as purple as any voters in the country.
In recent state of the county addresses, Nassau's Ed Mangano, a Republican, and Suffolk's Steve Bellone, a Democrat, sounded indistinguishable. Either would have been comfortable with the other's emphases on taxes, the environment and economic development.
Facing the threat of steady enrollment declines, however, the Nassau GOP especially seems to embrace the "wearing of the purple." In a recent speech, Mangano introduced one official of color after another, boasting that his administration has "the most diverse management team" in county history.
Sure, new immigrants and other minorities are the fastest growing population blocs in the county, and they've been reliable Democratic voters. But Mangano seemed sincere.
The GOP's purple approach hasn't been only about race. Increasingly, young voters have rejected Republicans in cities and suburbs alike. And at a recent conference at Hofstra University, Nassau Comptroller George Maragos faced a crowd that included many young Long Islanders. Maragos, who sought the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate a few years ago as a bright-red conservative, quickly acknowledged that right-wing prescriptions don't always work. ". . . I think government has to play an important role" in promoting economic development, he said.
A "gender gap" also looms as a problem for Republicans, especially among moderate suburban "soccer moms" who have abandoned -- or felt abandoned by -- the party on social and economic issues.
State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, introduced a Family Leave Act to counter a Democratic proposal. Although helpful to men and women alike, family leave tends to benefit women employees who bear the greatest burden of caring for young children and aging parents. Democrats and activists called the GOP version inadequate, but Skelos at least put the issue in play.
What's significant here is that many Republicans around the country wouldn't be caught dead with their name on any version of such a bill.
Examples of more progressive GOP agendas also can be found in Suffolk. The most recent is Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine's stunning goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Actions such as that have prompted many national Republicans to call New York's variety RINOs -- Republicans In Name Only. But denigrating moderate Republicans is a mistake for the national GOP. Since the election of George H.W. Bush, the winning presidential candidate is the one who builds a bridge to the moderate suburbs from his natural base -- urban for Democrats, rural for Republicans. The same can be said of Congressional contests: many of the 40 "swing" districts are wholly or substantially in suburban communities like Long Island.
Are Long Island's Republicans sincere in their political "purple haze" shift? If they want to survive the demographic wave here and in other suburbs, they need to be.