Quick, what connects the Wisconsin recall election and marijuana? Well, the answer may be... Andrew Cuomo. The two issues popped up at the same time when Scott Walker and the corporate right turned back a spirited electoral challenge and Andrew Cuomo came out for decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of pot in public view.*
Cuomo's decision came as scrutiny increased on the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policies which have seen an enormous jump in police stopping and frisking folks on public streets without any assertion of cause to arrest them or reasonably suspect them of a crime. Whatever actual law enforcement action ensued usually was based on the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and the the people stopped were very disproportionately black and hispanic. It has been an increasing sore point with communities of color, civil libertarians, and the occasional conventional citizen who gets caught up in a police controversy (see judge). It is an issue dear to the Left.
The Wisconsin recall election, although close and decided largely on the huge amounts of corporate money Walker received, gave pause to the notion that the voter is tired of hard Right economic policies. Walker's aggressive tone aside, his austerity-based economic policy and anti-union jihad was at the core of the substantive conversation, and still he prevailed.
Can these two political visions be joined? Well Andrew Cuomo seems to think so. He has been the Democratic Party's leading convert to the no taxes-cut spending-beat up the unions theory of governance and politics. He remains hugely popular in New York and is clearly interested in the presidential possibilities of 2016.
A good part of that popularity has come from his energetic intervention in Left social issues. He broke a stalemate on gay marriage and got the Republican-controlled State Senate to pass it, to fervent national kudos from gay political and financial leaders. He's an outspoken opponent of New York's and the nation's most dangerous nuclear reactor, Indian Point. He's been firmly pro-choice. And now he's the anti stop-and-frisk, decriminalize pot governor.
Last year, as Cuomo merged Right-wing austerity economic policy with Left-wing social policy in the New York State budget process. This column coined the phrase "progractionary" as a new political rubric. Lest it be seen as a one-time initiative, events since have confirmed that Cuomo's decision is the result of careful calculation. Put aside, if you can, your like or dislike of the policies, it is certainly an intriguing way to distinguish yourself from the pack of 2016 hopefuls. You've got to give him credit, Cuomo is smart and decisive. Don't underestimate the power of the idea of a candidate hard right on economics and hard left on social issues.
There have been and will be problems with this. Most recently, the corporate backers of the Cuomo budget plans have gotten him and themselves in a mess concerning lobbying for a casino project and contributions to an "independent" fund that runs TV ads. But the positioning for 2016 now includes a decision to force the economic and social issues into a single vehicle.
As for Obama, it is discomforting to have a leading "progressive" sound a lot like Scott Walker and Paul Ryan on economic issues. If his candidacy is going to be about the need for stimulus and government action and against austerity, well, he'll need an echo chamber on the Left and now he may not have it.
That haze you're seeing coming out of Albany may or may not be smoke. Cuomo is disciplined and thoughtful. He's placed a big bet on a new paradigm, the "progractionary" as Democratic standard-bearer. We'll see.
*CORRECTION: This blog originally identified Governor Cuomo's new policy position as legalization rather than decriminalization.