Local elections are just around the corner.
Next Tuesday, many of us will vote for town board members, mayors, supervisors—the folks that make our local municipalities function on a day to day basis.
Whenever candidates come to my door I always ask them two questions—are you pro-choice? And are you pro-gay rights?
According to conservative columnist George Will, it’s ridiculous to ask local candidates where they stand on reproductive choice. In a recent op ed, he contended that since the right to an abortion is so much a part of our culture, even a U.S. Supreme Court that is more conservative than the one we have now would not overturn Roe v. Wade.
He justified his perspective by citing the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist who (according to Will) thought that the Constitution did not require police officers to read what are now known as “Miranda rights” to presumed perpetrators. But, when the Supremes had an actual opportunity to overturn the 1966 Miranda ruling, Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion keeping Miranda in place because it had become part of routine police work.
The right to abortion (according to Will) is just as ingrained in society as Miranda and the likelihood of it being overturned isn’t great. And, if Roe was overturned, he said, “So what? . . . All it would actually do is restore abortion as a practice subject to state regulation.”
Well, George, that would bring us back to our local electeds. As it is, anti-choice local officials often make life difficult for Planned Parenthoods. For example, they tend to turn a blind eye on anti-choice zealots who picket in front of clinics.
And that’s why I always ask. Most of the time, the candidates are thrown off by the questions. “What do those issues have to do with the office I’m running for?” they ask. To me it’s quite simple. These local candidates may be running for town board today but tomorrow, they could be running for the state legislature.
And, whether they realize it or not, local elected officials do have an impact on human rights issues. A case in point is the Albany County Legislature’s inaction on extending human rights protections to the transgender community.
When New York’s State Omnibus Non-Discrimination Act passed in 2002 it did not include protection for transgender people. Now, just as we worked incrementally in community after community to get gay rights laws passed until state lawmakers saw the light and enacted a statewide bill, we have to do the same for protecting folks whose gender identity or expression is different.
To get that ball rolling here in Albany, trans activist Hawk Stone worked to get a bill through the Albany City Council. It happened quickly and without a lot of fanfare. Then he turned his sights to the Albany County Legislature—not so easy.
Suffice it to say that, today, unless a trans person lives in the city of Albany, he or she is not protected in the county.
When, Phil Steck, my own county legislator came knocking on my door this fall asking for my vote, I remembered his flip-flop support of the bill. I asked him why, as one of the original sponsors, he took his name off the bill.
Phil’s response was pure politics. He told me he knew the bill wasn’t going to pass and since he and the bill’s prime sponsor, fellow democrat John Frederick, had had some disagreements in the past, he pulled his support to teach John a lesson.
Well…as far as I’m concerned you don’t play politics with human rights—whether or not a bill looks like it’s going to pass. And as far as teaching Frederick a lesson about how to “get along” in the county legislature—John left to take a job with the State Education Department where, perhaps, he can have an impact on lessons of another kind.
And my county legislator? He lost my vote at my front door. He and George Will don’t understand that Tip O’Neill’s old adage is tried and true—all politics is local.