Running on Empty

Voters in New York’s 19th Congressional district will face two moral tests when they take a ballot on November 8. The first moral test will involve a choice between Donald “Grab ‘Em in the [Expletive] Trump” and Hillary Clinton. The second moral test will involve a choice between a Republican who has tied himself to Trump and a Democrat who holds fast to progressive principles.

John Faso, the Republican, and Zephyr Teachout, the Democrat, are running to succeed retiring Rep. Chris Gibson, a conservative who generated headlines last year by defying his party’s anti-climate-science orthodoxy; of course, considering the control that fossil-fuel interests have over the GOP, it’s entirely possible that Gibson chose not to run for re-election precisely because he knew the consequences of defying his party on climate. Gibson has endorsed Faso, a rather curious decision in that the former state assemblyman doesn’t seem to share Gibson’s concerns about the climate crisis. Consider this April 2016 interview with Stephen Kaye:

What can we do about it? We can’t operate in a vacuum. We need international consensus. We didn’t sign the Kyoto agreement but, unlike all the other major nations, we are meeting its targets by becoming more efficient in our use of energy in switching from coal to natural gas, a trend that is continuing.

While I accept that human activity is affecting the climate, I don’t buy the apocalyptic vision that some environmental organizations use as scare tactics. I believe in a measured approach. I agree that we have to continue to reduce emissions, without damaging our economic vitality.

Apparently, it failed to dawn upon Faso that human-caused climate change itself will “damage our economic vitality” (just look at the economic damage Hurricane Matthew has inflicted upon the South. Faso is nobody’s idea of a climate hawk.

The same cannot be said for Teachout, the Fordham University professor and Bernie Sanders protege who mounted a vigorous primary challenge to Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014–a primary challenge that apparently played a role in Cuomo’s post-reelection decision to ban fracking in New York State, something Teachout had called for in her campaign. (Faso has brutally attacked Teachout over her comprehensive plans to combat carbon pollution.)

Faso has pledged his support to Trump, sticking with the bigoted billionaire despite his gripping comments from 2005. (He again refused to disavow Trump in a debate with Teachout Thursday night.) Faso apparently believes he must grab every last pro-Trump Republican he can find in order to win, but it may not be enough:

Ms. Teachout and Mr. Faso certainly have starkly different views on policy. She sits firmly in the Democratic Party’s left wing, while his hard-right voting record in the Assembly, including a vote against equal pay for women and longstanding opposition to abortion rights, led more moderate Republicans to initially resist his candidacy for governor in 2006…

The district is almost equally divided along party lines, with 135,193 active voters registered as Republicans and 132,818 registered as Democrats, according to the State Board of Elections. There is also a large contingent of independent voters, with 114,577 active voters holding no party affiliation.

If enough independents are disgusted by the Party of Trump, and Faso’s refusal to wash his hands of the wingnut hater, the Republican will be routed–but will he? Will independents decide that even if they don’t agree with all of Teachout’s progressive positions, the Party of Trump is simply too sleazy to support? Or will they conclude (as the voters of Ohio have apparently done with Rob Portman) that Faso “isn’t that bad for a Republican?”

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.