When people in Las Vegas stood and cheered the inspirational candidate asking for their support at Yearly Kos last weekend-- or listened to Sam Seder interviewing him on Air America-- there was more than a little pride. This was one candidate everyone-- the Russ Feingold backers, the Mark Warner backers, the Gore and Clark hopefuls and even supporters of DLC candidates like Biden and Bayh-- could agree on. But this candidate isn't running for president or for the U.S. Senate or even for a House seat. Nope, Brian Keeler is running for a state senate seat in an obscure upstate New York district. Why should anyone, outside of that district, care?
Glad you asked. People who have been reading Daily Kos and Firedoglake for awhile probably recognize the screen name NYBri as belonging to a well-spoken, forthright, engaging progressive, bursting with positive energy, enthusiasm, great spirit and abundant intelligence. That would be Brian Keeler and Brian is challenging a severely reactionary, entrenched Republican in New York's 41st senatorial district, basically all of Columbia County and most of Dutchess County. The last time Dutchess County elected a Democrat as state senator was 1910. That freshman state legislator, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, did well in Albany-- and... well, helped save America and the rest of the world.
The New York State Senate has been in GOP hands since the mid-1960's. Over the last decade it has allowed Governor Pataki to institute reactionary tax policies-- progressive income tax displaced by a virtual flat tax for the wealthy so that someone earning $40,000 a year and someone earning $40 million a year pay the same exact rate-- and other harebrained schemes that have severely hurt the middle and working class. Pataki is about to be replaced by a strong, unabashed, truly liberal governor, Eliot Spitzer, at which point New York should become what Brian calls "a shining beacon for progressive government and an example for the rest of the country."
In the last few years the 41st senatorial district has changed from deep red to purple to pretty blue. Although party registration is about equal, the last 4 years have seen a trickle towards the Democrats turn into a flood. Gore lost in 2000. Kerry won it in 2004. Local elections have started overwhelmingly favoring Democrats. This year Brian has no primary; Democrats and independents are firmly united behind him. The well-regarded Drum Major Institute For Public Policy rates each member of the New York State legislature based on key votes that measure commitment to the well-being of the middle class. Brian's GOP opponent, Steve Saland, scored a 36%/"F," one of the lowest ranked Republicans in the entire State Senate.
The 2 big issues in the race-- as they are all over the country-- involve local taxes and development. Don't roll your eyes. This stuff is critical for electing progressives. The public school system (which the Republicans would love to see whither away and die) is funded by property taxes-- which, as a response to Bush's and Pataki's grotesque financial policies, have had the clear and undeniable effect of making the rich richer and impoverishing the middle class-- and property taxes have exploded. State Republicans, like national Republicans, have lowered the taxes on the wealthy drastically, staggeringly, and pushed more and more expenses for essential services onto local governments while borrowing gargantuan sums of money to keep the state afloat. At the same time, Republicans encourage developers-- particularly the ones who pay them off with hefty campaign contributions-- to build willy nilly, providing further stress on infrastructure and local services.
"You're not going to stop development," Brian told us, "but development should be guided by the ability of our resources to sustain it, not by how much political power a developer's money can buy." [This is a message for district after district around the country, a message with which Democrats like Charlie Brown, Louie Contreras and Jerry McNerney in California, for example, can clobber Doolittle, Lewis and Pombo, 3 Republicans who have become immensely wealthy working with corrupt developers since they won their congressional seats. Ditto for Democrats running in Florida and Arizona and in almost any state where runaway development is stressing out the ability of local governments to cope.]
Howard Dean's strategy and DfA's strategy of building up progressives and the Democratic Party from the ground up, is absolutely crucial if our values and principles are ever going to get a shot at undoing the tremendous systemic damage that has been wrought by 8 years of Republican policies. No one explains more clearly than David Sirota in HOSTILE TAKEOVER how corporate, or Big Business, interests have simply bought the entire Republican Party and enough of the Inside-the-Beltway Democrats to ride roughshod over our very Democracy. Electing Democrats nationally can put the brakes on what Bush and his criminal regime are doing to our country. Nurturing and electing candidates like Brian is ultimately far more important. It's the only way to turn the mess around. He's one of us-- someone who sees the problems for what they are and dreams the dream of a fair and equitable America that we all have a stake in. The energy we are all feeling towards Ned Lamont and Jon Tester is the same kind of energy we should be feeling towards Brian Keeler. If you want to, you can donate to his campaign here.