Monday, March 1, 2010

Unshackling Nothing -- Part I

The "Unshackle Upstate" effort has announced its intention to become involved in endorsing a handful of candidates for state legislature this year.

As tepid an effort as the plan seems, at least it's something.   Unshackle does a competent job identifying some of the core policy errors and bad laws that make New York State the most hostile in the country toward business investment and job creation.   It shows similar competence in its research, and position statements.

But when it comes to actually accomplishing anything ... let's just say every one of those shackles is as strong as ever, and not one has been broken yet.

We question the quality of leadership of Unshackle Upstate, and its local sponsor the Rochester Business Alliance, as well as its approach toward carrying out its stated mission.

Unshackle's Executive Director is Brian Sampson.   A Democrat, Sampson was close to nomination as Democratic candidate for Irondequoit Town Board when he became Executive Director of Unshackle, dropping his political plans for the time being.

Speaking to the Rochester Business Journal for a profile piece last July, Sampson referred to "the next part" of his career, some years down the road:   "You can talk and you can do, but at some point you want to affect the policy side from the inside," he says. "Running for public office is going to be, hopefully, as that voice of common sense that seems to just go away when you hit Albany."   So Mr. Sampson expects to run for something someday.

The combination of Sampson's political affiliation and political plans by themselves undermine our confidence in Unshackle Upstate, calling into question whether it acts in good faith.   Any one of the reform proposals officially supported by Unshackle -- reform of the Wicks law, of the Taylor Law, a property tax cap -- is utter anathema to the Democratic Party and its core of support in the state's powerful unions.   No advocate of any of these reforms could get the Democratic nomination for dogcatcher, except by winning a primary in which the full might of the party apparatus and the unions would be massed against him.   No Democrat holding office, and supporting Unshackle's proposals, could be renominated.

We think there are many people who call themselves Democrats who clearly understand the policy changes needed to create jobs and make the state competitive again, and who are willing to support those changes.

But no Democrat who's both politically savvy (as we hope the Executive Director of Unshackle Upstate would be) and who harbors ambitions for public office would permit himself to be in a position where he'd be seen as seriously fighting for these changes, much less pulling them off.   By "seriously" we mean doing what it takes to make the changes happen.

Maybe Mr. Sampson has abandoned ambitions for political office, at least as a Democrat.   Maybe he hasn't, and is just taking Unshackle through the motions, without serious intent actually to accomplish anything.   If so, that could be a useful, clever strategy for the unions and the Democrats, having an organization ostensibly dedicated to reform, thereby pre-empting genuine reform efforts from the business community or others, and assuring that none of the reforms happen.

The other principal player in leadership of Unshackle Upstate is Sandra Parker, CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance, Unshackle's local sponsor.

Like Sampson, whom she handpicked for the job of Unshackle's Executive Director, Parker is a registered Democrat.

In no way is that a disqualification from leading a business advocacy group.   Former Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Dan Walsh served for twenty years as a highly credible and effective leader of the Business Council of New York State.   In circumstances that often seemed hopeless, Walsh accomplished much.

Of Parker we can say that, among Republican political types, she is regarded as someone who pays lip service to certain principles that business supports -- lower taxes, less public spending, regulatory reform -- but hasn't succeeded in seeing them enacted, and who is no friend of local Republicans, or of the GOP-led County government.

In the 2009 elections for County Legislature, Democrats targeted three races as their best prospects for picking up the one seat they needed to take control of the legislature:   Districts 4 (Gates and Chili), 7 (Greece) and 13 (Henrietta).   These were the party's priority races.   For all three districts the Rochester Business Alliance endorsed the Democratic candidate.   Each of the three ran also as candidate of the union-front "Working Families" Party -- dedicated to the precise opposite of the RBA's and Unshackle's official positions on every key public policy issue.

We understand that RBA sponsors employee training sessions that are of use to many businesses.   But in terms of pursuing effectively its stated public policy objectives, it's been weak, to say the least.

Members of the business community who fund the RBA and Unshackle need to be asking:   What do they do for us?   Why does RBA endorse candidates opposed to our public policy goals?   Has Unshackle accomplished any of its goals, or is it all talk?

Unshackle Upstate says it recognizes nothing's changing, and that's why it's now getting into the business of endorsing candidates.   Yet its local sponsor's track record in endorsements is scarcely encouraging.   Whether Unshackle is really on the level about accomplishing what it claims to support will be seen in how it goes about endorsing candidates for state legislature.   We shall consider this in Part II.

COMING NEXT  --   Unshackling Nothing - Part II:   Unshackle's Plan to Rate State Legislators -- Helping the Cause or Hurting It?


Anonymous said...

Don't forget two out of those 3 leg seats had a Republican candidate who was a business owner (Antelli & Tucciarello). And they still endorsed the school board member who repeatedly raised taxes (Coon & Muscato)!

This group couldn't possibly have their priorities more screwed up!

Anonymous said...

Great post. This group appears to be nothing more than a County Democrat Party front. Expect support and endorsements for Democrat candidates this year, even for those Dems that have actually harmed taxpayers and businesses with their policies. Everyone knows they're a joke.