I wanted to personally input and make a call to action within this debate about our Congressional district and what the future for our party and our district is. These views are my own and reflect the last 7 years of my life in Southern tier politics. I’m 23 now.
When Eric Massa got elected to represent the Southern Tier in 2008 in Congress there were several different factors at play. First nationally turnout had been at a historic level, but more closely we saw a divided political discourse. I can tell you as someone who hit doors for the now infamous Congressman, we had cross party success. In a time when Democrats controlled Congress, and most importantly the pro life and pro 2nd amendment caucuses in the House itself were evenly split between blue dog, moderate Democrats, and Republicans.
Democrats had represented the Southern Tier in Congress even before Eric Massa won the seat in 2008.
To make the argument that congressional politics in the Southern Tier are local is to make an understatement. Politics runs within the social blood of the Southern tier, here politics are not only local but they’re hyper local.
People want to hear how laws and policy in Albany, and DC will affect the Southern Tier.
Here we have the chance to oust a Republican incumbent if we can frame the argument in a way that shows local folks these issues affect them much more locally.
With that in mind Eric Massa prevailed in a district that was won by John McCain 52% to 48% and that was the most Republican district in New York State in the house itself at that time with a PVI Cook Index of R+7. This can be a tale to tell all Democrats of all ages that it is possible to defeat someone in Republican held territory.
After redistricting some of the more Republican parts of the district were taken out and replaced with Tompkins County. The numbers seemed to favor Democrats and we held Tom’s feet to the fire in 2012 when Nate Shinagawa came within 3 points of defeating Tom Reed with one million and change dollars less than Martha Robertson had raised.
Let me say that Martha ran a tough race in a tough year within national politics for Democrats. She deserves our respect for doing what others would not.
Withholding Numbers for a second we cannot rely anymore on national politics influencing every single outcome locally. Tom Reed must be checked at every attempt to depict any sort of moderation.
This is where the title of this article comes in. According to Tom Reed we truly do live in two different Southern tiers. You can see that in the way people react to Tom’s policies both negatively and positively. Tom wants to pretend he’s a moderate but fails to show how when it comes to his policies. He defines the Southern Tier as two different Southern Tiers this can be shown in how he talks to base versus how he talks to his Constituents.
Tom Reed has a Facebook page where he gets to be conservative with his base, and one in which he attempts to show moderation. This doublespeak can be replicated across the district for other incumbents in the State Assembly and State Senate.
He cosponsors laws that in his conservative Republican mindset thinks makes him moderate. Heck even when he votes for important legislation or speaks at events he wont announce it. This is shown in his lack of coverage of his own NO vote on building the Keystone XL pipeline out of American made steel or that he spoke at the pro life “March For Life”.
We have republican incumbents who locally don’t even hold town hall meetings and get away with ridiculous behavior. More than just Tom Reed, we need to see that folks like Tom O’mara, Mike Nozzolio, Chris Friend and others are cut from the same cloth.
For the sake of Democracy and for our Democratic Party we can’t just have Democracy at the Congressional level. We need to challenge the GOP at every level of government. Break the machine.
I was only 16 when Congressman Massa got elected, but I was more than exhalted to know that Randy Kuhl his Republican opponent whom we got to justify the closure of a VA hospital in Bath was defeated.
The way I saw that this position which Randy Kuhl took in 2006 affected me very personally. We need to show that all of these policy positions that Tom takes in DC affect people locally in a huge way.
Keep in mind that while other Republicans held on in New York State such as Peter King. The good people of the Southern Tier gave Randy Kuhl the boot.
So your question might be: How do we defeat Tom Reed in 2016?
It’s not a simple question to answer, nor is it something that can be done quickly.
In order to defeat Tom Reed we must replicate the ability to mobilize voters on different races across the district, while also calculating what has to be done to unite a Democratic Party base outside of Tompkins County and Ithaca.
No longer should we run these single unilateral attempts at just taking the Congressional district. What people miscount is that in 2008 we had local Democratic Candidates challenging the Republican incumbents in the State Senate and State Assembly.
Even though they lost this created a sense of urgency that mobilized voters and that in the end gave us a Democratic Congressman for some time.
The second thing we must do right now, is to build the infrastructure locally and district wide. Political infrastructure isn’t just voter lists and phone calls. We have to be able to transcend what is considered traditional political outreach locally and open up to new forms of organizing.
From just looking in a social media standpoint only four of the nine county Democratic committees have any active presence in social media. We have a small network of activist which we must expand. Online work is a way to do this. If we really want to win then we have to expand beyond talking to neighbors or taking out ads in the newspaper. The new generation is more connected online now more than ever before.
In the year after the 2010 election where Captain Matt Zeller held Tom Reed to only 10% under the old district lines, I set to organize a group of young people to protest congressional economic policies that hurt the future generation. It’s fair to note that Occupy Wall Street was organizing actions nationally. Just like Occupy affected the 2012 elections, our local Occupy group affected the Southern Tier.
We held rallies once a month in front of Tom Reed’s office to not only show the public what he wouldn’t but to mobilize young people and link our actions to our future.
We even held a student strike at Corning Community College in conjunction with campuses across the country to protest student debt. Nate Shinagawa even came to speak and we ended up realizing that Tom Reed ain’t superhuman. He can only make an argument as well as he’s prepped.
The last thing I want to say is that we should stop having Tom define us as this binary that shows our stronghold as Tompkins County. Yes Tompkins County might be a Democratic County but they also have Republican elected officials, they have poverty, and would have been affected by fracking just like the rest of us.
No longer can we be the tale of two different Congressional districts defined by a Republican Congressman who uses two different press releases to get two different reactions. Yes the 23rd Congressional district might be politically polarized. But the generic apologies that are trying to justify the rut that we suffered in 2014 have no place in 2016.
We don’t need to be generic Democrats; our district is a place of political innovation it’s a place where Democrats and Republicans can try out new arguments and strategies. Populism runs deep in the hills of the Southern tier and Western New York.
I’m not unfazed by what happened last year, I want to see us innovate ourselves out of this status quo. Democrats win the district presidentially in 2008 when it was more Republican but are defeated in the Congressional election even though the District is even less Republican than it was in 2008.
In 2016 I don’t want to just talk about Challenging Tom Reed. I want Democrats to Challenge State Senators Tom O’mara, Mike Nozzolio and Catharine Young. I want to check off democrats running for local office. Heck I want there to be a fight between Democrats over who should represent us in the State Democratic Committee. I want to be able to check off a Democratic candidate in the state assembly election against Chris Friend. I want to see Democrats contesting towns that vote Democratic in Presidential elections but don’t have a single Democratic Councilman or county legislator.
I’m going to do my bit to organize young people to vote and run for office and bring more local Democratic parties online. Enough with the self-criticism if we really want to win and show people what the Southern tier must be and will be, then we need to put our nose to the grindstone. I want everyone who ever spoke out against the policies of our current Congressman to run for local office, to help organize people to vote, to help us build the infrastructure to win. I want to see Democracy in action because political parties and political machines do not get to determine who should run; we have to move beyond this idea. Democracy is more important than this, Democrats we have our orders let’s fight for our Southern Tier!