Editorials from around New York
Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:
The Albany Times Union on protesters being billed.
If you want to come to Albany to protest the injustices of poverty, you’ll want to have money, not to mention an appreciation for irony.
Demonstrators calling themselves the Poor People’s Campaign have been staging a series of protests in New York’s capital city for the past several weeks to call attention to a host of issues — among them poverty, gun violence, voting rights, racism, and health care. Along the way, they’ve caused some inconveniences — mainly traffic congestion — in the name of nonviolent civil disobedience.
In response, the city sent them a $1,451 bill for police coverage at the May 21 protest, with more on the way.
That’s right: The city billed poor people, and advocates for poor people, for complaining about poverty.
Modeled after the Poor People’s Campaign conceived by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, the modern-day movement, known as the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, involves demonstrations in more than three dozen state capitals across the country over six weeks, culminating in a June 23 rally in Washington, D.C.
About the nicest thing one could say about Albany’s decision to bill the protesters is that it’s exceedingly clueless. Mark Mishler, a longtime civil rights activist and the attorney for the local group, goes further, calling it “an effort to chill, intimidate, or bully people from continuing to engage.” We’d like to think that’s not Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s intent, but those are certainly predictable assumptions when a government starts slapping people of little means with bills for exercising their rights.
And really, Mayor Sheehan should know better. Here, after all, is a mayor who has declared Albany a sanctuary city against the Trump administration’s threats to penalize communities and states that refuse to aid its bigoted, xenophobic agenda. A mayor who last year launched an anti-poverty program. A mayor who is leaving the middle-class Buckingham Lake-Crestwood neighborhood for a home in need of major rehab in the lower-income Ten Broeck Triangle.
Perhaps most conspicuously, here’s a mayor who annually asks the state for millions of dollars more in aid, partly on the argument that Albany, as the seat of state government, has added costs, particularly for public safety. Yet after securing $12 million in extra aid this year, the city turns around and bills people for expenses that state aid was supposed to cover?
And then there’s the rather arbitrary sense of the city’s billing system, which we asked the mayor’s office to explain Monday and didn’t get a call back. But surely, not every protester gets a bill. So is some speech free and other speech not? And are the decisions as to who pays and who doesn’t content-neutral — as government is expected to be in regulating speech?
People come to Albany to exercise not just free speech but another of the most important rights in a representative republic — to petition government for a redress of grievances. A government that bills people for exercising that right might justifiably be served with a petition of its own.
The Daily News on the Justice Department not defending key parts of the Affordable Care Act.
After failing to get a comprehensive Affordable Care Act repeal through Congress — you know, the place where laws are supposed to be made — and then winning a repeal of one of the law’s provisions in last year’s massive tax cut, the Trump administration now asks a judge to undo the rest of the law through the courts.
This is a brazen act of executive overreach. If it succeeds, it will endanger the coverage of thousands of sick Americans.
In federal court last week in Texas, where 20 states are suing to undo pieces of Obamacare, the Justice Department jumped in on the states’ side with a stunning argument.
Namely, they claim that the law’s individual mandate levying a tax penalty on individuals who refuse to buy health insurance is unconstitutional. And that, since Congress has removed that piece of the statute through the legislative process, the rest of the Jenga tower should now fall.
Why? Basically just because. No wonder three career lawyers withdrew from the case just before the government filed its papers.
This would mean no more “guaranteed issue” — that’s the federal ban on insurance companies denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions. No more “community rating” — those are the federal restrictions limiting what companies can charge people on the basis of age and other factors.
It is one thing for states to claim in court that these interwoven pieces of the federal legislation should be invalidated. It is another and far more dangerous step for this administration to abandon, on the flimsiest rationale, a law duly passed by a previous Congress and signed by a previous President.
Trump policy changes already executed are likely to send younger and healthier people fleeing from the insurance rolls, driving up costs for the rest of us. In New York State, individual plans are seeing 24% increases.
If the President gets his way, that’s just the early stage of a disease that’s about to get a whole lot deadlier.
The Plattsburgh Press-Republican on government corruption.
Can anything be more frustrating, more maddening, less understandable than New York state government’s inability or unwillingness to mount a serious campaign against corruption at the highest levels?
It is an enormous blot on the way business is conducted in the Capitol and an insult to the citizens, who obviously have no say in how their government is run.
State government has for decades been derisively referred to as “three men in a room.” That’s because all decisions on which laws were going to be passed — and even “debated” — were made jointly by the governor, the speaker of the Assembly and the Senate majority leader.
Since law-making government consists of an executive and legislative branch and since the legislative branch consists of two houses, those three office-holders are in charge.
The idea of our government was to put as much authority as was conceivable into the hands of the people. Since, for practical reasons, the people can’t write or vote on every bill, the next best thing is for them to choose representatives to do their writing and voting for them.
But, if public oversight is lacking somewhere along the line, those representatives can begin to accumulate power well beyond the intentions the creators of the government had in mind.
On the state level, three men in a room has enabled those at the top to run roughshod over good government and the people who sent them there to do the people’s bidding.
Not too long ago, two of the men who had been in the room were convicted of corruption and fraud: Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate majority leader, and Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the Assembly.
Silver has recently been re-convicted, after having one conviction in 2015 overturned. Federal prosecutors proved that Silver had taken advantage of his position as one of the state’s most powerful politicians to obtain close to $4 million in bribes and kickbacks.
He had been sentenced to 12 years in prison and ordered to pay $5.3 million restitution but will be re-sentenced July 13.
Here is the people’s frustration: We know our representatives. We know Sen. Betty Little and Assembly members Billy Jones and Dan Stec. We know retired Assemblywoman Janet Duprey. We knew the late Ron Stafford, one of the three or four most powerful politicians in the state.
We know they are all good, honest people. But can they do nothing to rein in their colleagues who aren’t? Has our system devolved into something totally beyond the reach of good people trying to do what’s right for the people?
We, the people, need a positive sign from Albany that they understand this frustration.
The Utica Observer-Dispatch on young people voting.
“If young people decide to go out there and vote, we have the power to affect what the government does. We could have a big impact.”
So said Nestor Aguilera, a 20-year-old Indiana University business major from Elkhart, Indiana. Aguilera’s simple statement pretty much tells it like it is. He admits that he didn’t vote in 2016, but he promises to show up for this fall’s midterm elections.
Other young people should, too. Regardless of your political persuasion, voters — young and old — have the power to affect government.
Getting out the youth vote has long been a struggle. For instance, a CNN/USAToday/Gallup poll taken 15 years ago found that the potential voters younger than 30 surveyed said they weren’t as interested in politics as their older counterparts. In 2004, Urban Outfitters, a clothing chain based in Philadelphia, even thought it would be hip to diss voting and produced a T-shirt proclaiming “Voting is for Old People.” That’s just dumb.
But surveys now show voting trends among young people may be changing. The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), which conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans, explains why that is significant.
“Voting is habit-forming: when young people learn the voting process and vote they are more likely to do so when they are older. If individuals have been motivated to get to the polls once, they are more likely to return. So, getting young people to vote early could be key to raising a new generation of voters.”
CIRCLE says young people are a major subset of the electorate and their voices matter.
—46 million young people, ages 18-29, are eligible to vote, while 39 million seniors are eligible to vote.
—Young people (ages 18-29) make up 21 percent of the voting eligible population in the U.S.
—Young people’s participation can influence election results.
U.S. voter turnout in general is pretty lame when compared to other nations. Just slightly more than half — nearly 56 percent (86.8 percent registered) — of the U.S. voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Compare that to 87 percent (89.37 percent registered) in Belgium, 82.61/85.81 in Sweden, and 78.96/90.98 in Australia. In fact, 25 other counties had a higher percentage voter turnout/registration in their last election than the United States.
It’s especially shameful given the sacrifices made to secure the vote. Contrary to what some believe, the war fought and won against Britain did not secure equal rights for all. Only white men who owned property could vote at the time. There were also literacy requirements and restrictions on people of certain religious denominations. And it wasn’t until the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 when blacks were able to vote. Even then, it took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before that right was actually realized.
Meanwhile, women died to earn their right to vote. In 1848, native Utican Gerrit Smith, also a noted abolitionist, made women’s suffrage part of the Liberty Party platform. A short time later, suffragists gathered in Seneca Falls for a convention, setting off a 70-year struggle for voting privileges. Many women like Susan B. Anthony who helped secure the vote did not live to exercise that right. (Although Anthony did vote in the 1872 presidential election, and was tried and convicted of voting illegally. She was fined $100, and told the court: “I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.” And she didn’t. No further action was taken against her.)
Finally, after a long, bitter struggle, the 19th Amendment — ratified on August 18, 1920 — gave women the right to vote.
As for young people, 18-year-olds were granted the right to vote in 1971. Even then, just about half of those eligible voted in the 1972 presidential election. It was even worse in 2000, when just 29 percent of young people voted.
In Oneida County, the percentage of young people ages 18-29 registered who voted in the last two presidential elections dropped significantly between 2012 and 2016, according to statistics provided by county Election Commissioner Michael F. Galimo II.
In the 2012 election between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, there were 13,377 registered voters ages 18-29 and 10,130, or 76 percent, voted. Four years later, in the 2016 election between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, there were 16,410 registered ages 18-29, and 9,137 — 56 percent — voted.
But there could be changes on the horizon. The latest Youth Political Pulse survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV noted an uptick in voting interest among young people. It is particularly apparent among Americans ages 15 to 22, a group that includes teenagers who will be eligible to vote in a presidential election for the first time in 2020. The poll found that 48 percent now think they can have at least some effect on the government, after just 33 percent felt that way in March.
The survey also found that more young people believe politicians care what they think: 34 percent of 15-to-34-year-olds report that elected officials care at least a moderate amount about what they think, compared to 25 percent two months ago. At the same time, two-thirds say they think the government is not functioning well, and just over half — 52 percent — say they rarely or never read or watch news about the midterm elections.
That’s not only contradictory, it’s a recipe for disaster. Anyone leery of the way government operates needs to be finding out about those who would lead it in every way possible in order to make informed decisions at the ballot box. Failing to do so abdicates their responsibility as a citizen.
Our goal as parents, grandparents, family, friends, teachers and even peers is to encourage discussion of issues and candidates so young people do not feel disenfranchsed from the process. Then, they need to take the first giant step toward the voting booth: Register.
Remember, democracy is based on majority rule. But when a small percentage of those eligible to vote fail to register, and an even smaller amount of those who do register actually turn out to vote, we are being ruled by the minority.
The Poughkeepsie Journal on an effort to improve the Hudson River.
Municipalities don’t often have a strong voice against the mighty forces of the state and federal governments — or even big industry at times. But, collectively, local governments can make a huge difference if they can find ways to work together.
Seven local municipalities are banding together in such a way to ensure the health and security of their water systems.
Partnering with the environmental group Riverkeeper, these municipalities have launched the Hudson River Drinking Water Intermunicipal Council and, in doing so, stand a much better chance to obtain grants and other support.
Participants are the city and town of Poughkeepsie, the village and town of Rhinebeck, the towns of Esopus, Hyde Park and Lloyd. These communities rely on the Hudson River for drinking water. While the Hudson’s water quality has improved since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, significant challenges and threats remain. They include runoff and sewage overflows and other types of pollution, in addition to the impacts that climate change will have on sea levels.
About 100,000 people rely on water pulled from the Hudson River for daily drinking, cooking and cleaning. Ensuring the water is properly treated before its use is, of course, imperative. To that end, this collaboration can pay great dividends.
Dan Shapley, Riverkeeper’s water quality program director, notes the state makes money available for water and wastewater projects. But he adds municipalities applying alone are eligible for a maximum of $5 million per project or 25 percent state contribution for total project cost. Local governments applying collectively can double that.
Of course, the larger goal is make the river as clean as possible, something that goes far beyond the work of these communities. For instance, the public and the state must insist the federal Environmental Protection Agency compel General Electric to dredge more PCB pollution of the river. The company, which dumped PCBs in the water before the practice was banned in the late 1970s, has effectively cleaned up some of the pollution but the job is clearly not done.
What’s more, communities ought to be concerned about possible crude oil spills in the Hudson and must push government and industry to take better precautions — and to have contingency plans firmly in place in case of a spill.
Communities have shown when they stick together, they can be powerful forces for change. Keeping that momentum going for a cleaner Hudson is one fight worth a mighty effort.