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Filler: Governor's race and Potemkin politics

Republican challenger Rob Astorino, left, and Gov. Andrew

Republican challenger Rob Astorino, left, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat. Credit: AP

Surveying the gubernatorial campaign, I'm split between wishing there were fewer goofy options and wishing there were more. I'm fine with the no-chance-of-winning candidates of ideas, but I detest the Potemkin parties that offer nothing but an additional ballot line to candidates committed to the major parties. A Potemkin village, if you don't remember from ninth grade, has fake storefronts that create the appearance of a town.

The ballot for governor has 10 lines, but five candidates: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has the Democratic, Independence, Working Families and Women's Equality lines. Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino has the Republican, Conservative and Stop Common Core lines. New York is one of seven states that allow "fusion voting" -- candidates can represent more than one party on ballots.

In theory, this allows us to add nuance to the votes we cast. A vote for Cuomo on the Working Families line could mean, "I like Cuomo, but the Cuomo who supports unions, big government and taxing the bejabbers out of the rich. Not the Cuomo who cut taxes, fought the unions and controlled spending . . . Actually, the Cuomo I like is Mario."

A vote for Astorino on the Conservative line would mean, "I like Astorino, but not the moderate one elected to lead Westchester, with its 2-to-1 Democratic enrollment advantage. I like the fervently anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-government Astorino. So actually, I like Carl Paladino."

Each candidate also has a ballot line that doesn't even pretend to be a party: Astorino created the Stop Common Core option to tap into the rage against new educational standards that has created a rare bipartisan breed of rabid hatred that could pull in big votes.

Cuomo created the Women's Equality line because he failed to pass a 10-point women's agenda and wants to remind women he tried. And because arguing against the Women's Equality line would work about as well with most female voters as running on the slogan "Lighten up, ladies."

There are minor parties in the race representing ideas. You can tell because they have their own candidates. Howie Hawkins -- a beacon of sanity in the 2010 gubernatorial debate that featured Jimmy "Rent Is 2 Damn High" McMillan -- is running for the Earth-loving Greens. Michael McDermott of Huntington Station is running for the freedom-loving Libertarians. A vote for these candidates means you support their beliefs.

Then there's Steve Cohn, of Carle Place, representing the Sapient Party, which seems like a flat-tax-loving conservative line unless you know Cohn sits on the board that runs the Nassau University Medical Center, and was nominated to the spot by Democrats. Cohn's run is likely meant to pull votes from conservative candidates and bolster Cuomo, and that's worthy of a whole other diatribe.

This year, fusion voting limited, rather than expanded, the options of many voters. Had the Working Families Party been unable to give its line to Cuomo in exchange for some promises, it would have probably nominated Zephyr Teachout, presenting a real liberal option in the general election. The same is true of the Conservatives and Astorino. We won't know how many Republican votes mean "tea party now" and how many mean "I like moderate taxes and golf" because the votes go to the same candidate.

The minor parties repped by major candidates will get the 50,000 votes they need to automatically appear on future ballots. The major candidates will get votes cast, in many cases, by people fooled into believing they share the candidates' principles. The politicos will continue to exchange jobs and lobbying and contributions and power among each other, in the parties and between them.

The voters? They get a shiny Potemkin process with plenty of choices but few options.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

 

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